From his position in reserve, covering the Opequon ford, Crook moved up the right bank of the Red Bud to the rear of Dwight's first position, and then, dividing his command, posted Thoburn on the right of Dwight, and sent Duval across the Red Bud to his point of attack. Then Thoburn, at Emory's request, relieved Beal's front line of battle, while Emory drew out the 114th, the 116th, and the 153d New York and placed them under Davis to strengthen the centre. Beal himself was looking to his flank, held by the 47th Pennsylvania and the 30th Massachusetts.
Meanwhile Wharton had gone back from the desperate task of covering the flank at Stephenson's against Merritt's advance and had taken position in the rear of Rodes.
As soon as Crook was fairly across the Red Bud, his movement silenced the battery on the left bank that had been enfilading Emory's line, and this served to tell Emory that Crook was in place and at work. Averell and Merritt could be plainly seen surging up the valley road far in Gordon's left and rear, furiously driving before them the main body of Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry. About four o'clock the cheers of Duval's men beyond the Red Bud served as the signal for Thoburn, and now as Crook moved forward, sweeping everything before him, from right to left the whole army responded to the impulse. To meet Thoburn, Breckinridge placed Wharton in position at right angles with Gordon and with the valley road. Duval, having easily driven before him everything on the left bank of the Red Bud, waded through the marsh on his left, crossed the run, and united with Thoburn. Then Crook, with a sudden and irregular but curiously effective half-wheel to the left, fell vigorously upon Gordon, and Torbert coming on with great impetuosity at the same instant, the weight was heavier than the attenuated lines of Breckinridge and Gordon could bear. Early saw his whole left wing give back in disorder, and as Emory and Wright pressed hard, Rodes and Ramseur gave way, and the battle was over.
All that remained to Early was to make good his retreat, now seriously compromised by the steady progress of Wilson toward and at last upon the Millwood road. Early vainly endeavored to reunite his shattered fragments behind the lines constructed in the former campaigns for the defence of Winchester on the east. About five o'clock Torbert and Crook, fairly at right angles to the first line of battle, covered Winchester on the north from the rocky ledges that lie to the eastward of the town nearly to the first position of Braxton's guns. Thence Wright extended the line at right angles with Crook and parallel with the valley road, while Sheridan drew out Emory, who was naturally displaced by these converging movement, and sent him to extend Wright's line toward the south.
The disorderly retreat of Early's men once begun, there was no staying it. Torbert pursued the fugitives to Kernstown, where Ramseur faced about, but Sheridan, mindful that his men had been on their feet since two o'clock in the morning, many of them since one, and had in the meantime fought with varying success a long and hard fight ending in a great victory, made no attempt to send his infantry after the flying enemy.
For what was probably the first time in their lives, his men had seen every musket, every cannon, and every sabre put in use, and to good use, by their young and vigorous commander. They had looked upon a decisive victory ending with the rout of their enemy. Sheridan himself openly rejoiced, and catching the enthusiasm of their leader, his men went wild with excitement when, accompanied by his corps commanders, Wright and Emory and Crook, Sheridan rode down the front of his lines. Then went up a mighty cheer that gave new life to the wounded and consoled the last moments of the dying, for in every breast was firmly implanted the conviction that now at last the end was in sight, and that deep-toned shout that shook the hills and the heavens was not the brutal roar of a rude and barbarous soldiery, coarsely exulting over the distress and slaughter of the vanquished, but the glad voice of the American people (2) rejoicing from the hill-top at the first sure glimpse of the final victory that meant to them peace, home, and a nation saved.
When the President heard the news his first act was to write with his own hand a warm message of congratulation, and this he followed up by making Sheridan a brigadier-general in the regular army, and assigning him permanently to the high command he had been exercising under temporary orders.
The losses of the Army of the Shenandoah, according to the revised statements compiled in the War Department were 5,018, including 697 killed, 3,983 wounded, 338 missing. Of the three infantry corps, the Nineteenth, though in numbers smaller than the Sixth, suffered the heaviest loss, the aggregate being 2,074, while the total casualties of the Sixth Corps were 1,699, and those of the West Virginia forces, 794. The total loss of the cavalry was 451. The loss of the Nineteenth Corps was divided into 314 killed, 1,554 wounded, 206 missing. Of this, far the heaviest share fell upon Grover's division, which reported 1,527 against 542 in Dwight's division. Dwight reports 80 killed, 460 wounded, 2 missing; Grover, 234 killed, 1,089 wounded, 204 missing; but Grover had four brigades in the action while Dwight had two, and this nearly represents the relative strength of the two divisions. Of the brigades, Birge's suffered the most, having 107 killed, 349 wounded, 69 missing—together, 525; while Molineux, who came next, had 58 killed, 362 wounded, 87 missing—together, 507; yet in proportion Sharpe fared the worst, for his brigade, though but half as strong as Birge's, lost 39 killed, 222 wounded, 17 missing—together, 278. The 114th New York heads the fatal record for the day with 44 killed and mortally wounded, and 141 wounded—together, 185 out of about 270 in action—nearly sixty-five per cent.
Dwight's report having been sent back to him by Emory for correction, and not again presented, no report is to be found from the First division or any portion of it, except McMillan's brigade and the 12th Connecticut. The most useful detailed accounts of the part taken by the division are to be found in the admirable histories of the "First-Tenth-Twenty-Ninth Maine" by Major John M. Gould, and of the 114th New York by Assistant-Surgeon Harris H. Beecher.
Prominent among the slain of the Nineteenth Corps, besides Lieutenant-Colonel Peck, already spoke of, were Colonel Alexander Gardiner, 14th New Hampshire, Lieutenant-Colonel Willoughby Babcock, 75th New York, Major William Knowlton, 29th Maine and Major Eusebius S. Clark, 26th Massachusetts. These were fine officers, and their loss was deeply deplored.
Early lost nearly 4,000 in all, including about 200 prisoners. Rodes was killed, Fitzhugh Lee severely wounded. Early was forced to leave his dead and most of his wounded to be cared for by the victors, into whose hands also fell five guns and nine battle-flags.
Severe military critics have sometimes been disposed to find fault with Early, not merely for scattering his army—which, though certainly a fault, was handsomely made good by the rapid concentration, —but even for fighting his battle at Winchester at all. Weakened by the loss of Kershaw, Early should, these critics think, have fallen back to Fisher's Hill at the first sign of Sheridan's advance; yet upon a broad view it is difficult to concede this. The odds against Early were the same that the Confederates had necessarily assumed from the beginning. They were desperate; they could not possibly be otherwise than desperate; they called for desperate campaigns, and these for desperate battles. Standing on the defensive at Fisher's Hill, Early would not only have given up the main object of his campaign and of his presence in the valley, but would have exposed himself to the risk of being cut off by a turning column gaining his rear by way of the Luray valley. Indeed, this would have been more than a risk; sooner or later it would have been a certainty.
(1) Also spelled "Opequan." Pronounced O-peck'-an.
(2) "Hear that! That's the voice of the American people!" Thomas is said to have exclaimed on hearing the tremendous cheers of his men for their decisive victory of Nashville.
CHAPTER XXXIII. FISHER'S HILL.
The frowning heights of Fisher's Hill had long been the bugbear of the valley. The position was, in truth, a purely defensive one, its chief value being that there was no other. Except for defence it was worthless, because it was as hard to get out of as to get at; and even for defence it was subject to the drawback that it could be easily and secretly turned upon either flank. In a word, its strength resided mainly in the fact that between the peaks of Massanutten and the North Mountain the jaws of the valley were contracted to a width of not more than four miles. The right flank of the shortened front rests securely upon the north fork of the Shenandoah, where it winds about the base of Three Top Mountain before bending widely toward the east to join the south fork and form the Shenandoah River. Across the front, among rocks, between steep and broken cliffs, winds the brawling brook called Tumbling Run, and above it, from its southern edge, rises the rugged crag called Fisher's Hill. Here, behind his old entrenchments, Early gathered the remnants of his army for another stand, and began to strengthen himself by fresh works. The danger of a turning movement through the twin valley of Luray was in his mind, and to guard against it he sent his cavalry to Milford, while Sheridan, who was thinking of the same thing, ordered Torbert to ride up the Luray valley from Front Royal.
On the morning of the 20th of September Sheridan set out to follow Early, and in the afternoon took up a position before Strasburg, the Sixth Corps on the right, Emory on the left, and Crook behind Cedar Creek in support. The next morning, the 21st, Sheridan pushed and followed Early's skirmishers over the high hill that stands between Strasburg and Fisher's Hill, overlooking both, drove them behind the defences of Fisher's Hill, and took up a position covering the front from the banks of the North Fork on the left, where Emory's left rested lightly, to the crown of the hill just mentioned, which commanded the approach by what is called the back road, or Cedar Creek grade, and was but slightly commanded by Fisher's Hill itself. This strong vantage-ground Wright wrested from the enemy after a struggle, and felling the trees for protection and for range, planted his batteries there. The ground was very difficult, broken and rocky, and to hold it the Sixth corps had to be drawn toward the right, while Emory, following the movement, in the dark hours of the early morning of the 22d of September, extended his front so as to cover the ground thus given up by Wright.
Sheridan now thought of nothing short of the capture of Early's army. Torbert was to drive the Confederate cavalry through Luray, and thence, crossing the Massanutten range, was to lay hold of the valley pike at New Market, and plant himself firmly in Early's rear on his only line of retreat. Crook, by a wide sweep to the right, his march hidden by the hills and woods, was to gain the back road, so as to come up secretly on Early's left flank and rear, and the first sounds of battle that were certain to follow the discovery of his unexpected approach in this quarter were to serve as a signal for Wright and Emory to fall on with everything they had.
During the forenoon of the 22d, Grover held the left of the position of the Nineteenth Corps, his division formed in two lines in the order of Macauley,(1) Birge; Shunk, Molineux. Dwight, in the order of Beal, McMillan, held the right, and connected with Wheaton. In taking ground towards the right, as already described, this line had become too extended, and, as it was necessary that the left of the skirmishers, at least, should rest upon the river, Grover shortened his front by moving forward Foster with the 128th and Lewis with the 176th New York to drive in the enemy's skirmishers opposite, and to occupy the ground that they had been holding. This was handsomely done under cover of a brisk shelling from Taft's and Bradbury's guns. As on the rest of the line, the whole front of the corps was covered as usual by hasty entrenchments. In the afternoon Ricketts moved far to the right, and seized a wooded knoll commanding Ramseur's position on Fisher's Hill. In preparation for the attack Sheridan gave Emory the ground on the left of the railway, and Wright that beyond it, and Molineux moved forward to lead the advance of Grover. The sun was low when the noise of battle was heard far away on the right. This was Crook, sweeping everything before him as he charged suddenly out of the forest full upon the left flank and rear of Lomax and Ramseur, taking the whole Confederate line completely in reverse. The surprise was absolute. Instantly Wright and Emory took up the movement, and, inspired by the presence and the impetuous commands of Sheridan, descended rapidly the steep and broken sides of the ravine, at the bottom of which lies Tumbling Run, and then rather scrambling than charging up the rocky and almost inaccessible sides of Fisher's Hill, swarmed over the strong entrenchments, line after line, and planting their colors upon the parapets, saw the whole army of Early in disorderly flight. Foremost to mount the parapet was Entwistle with his company of the 176th New York. To them the good fortune fell of being the first to lay hands on four pieces of artillery in battery, abandoned in the panic caused by the appearance of Crook, but almost at the same instant Wilson, gallantly leading the 28th Iowa, planted the colors of his regiment on the works. That nothing might be wanting to the completeness of the victory, the Confederates, who, until that moment had felt their position so secure that they had even taken the ammunition boxes from the caissons, abandoned sixteen pieces of artillery where they stood. Early was unable to arrest the retreat of his army until he found himself near Edenburg, four miles beyond Woodstock.
Sheridan's loss in this battle was 52 killed, 457 wounded, 19 missing, in all, 528. Of this the Sixth Corps suffered nearly half, namely, 27 killed, 208 wounded, 3 missing, in all, 238. Crook's loss was 8 killed, 152 wounded, 2 missing, total 162, and Emory accounts for 15 killed, 86 wounded, 13 missing, together 114. All the casualties of the cavalry numbered but 14. Early reports his loss in the infantry and artillery alone as 30 killed, 210 wounded, 995 missing, total 1,235; but Sheridan claims 1,100 prisoners.
Now came Torbert's opportunity, but unfortunately, after suffering a check from the two brigades of Fitzhugh Lee under Wickham, Torbert had on the 22d fallen back down the Luray valley toward his starting-point, and when on the afternoon of the 23d word came to him of what had happened at Fisher's Hill, although he again advanced, he was then too late. Thus for once the cavalry column completely failed. Sheridan, from the tenor of his despatches to Torbert, must have felt that this result was probable, but he did not let it disturb his own movements, and without a halt he pushed forward his whole force in pursuit, with slight regard to organization, each regiment or brigade nearly in the order in which it chanced to file into the road. Devin's cavalry brigade trod closely on the heels of what was left of Lomax, and Emory, whose line had crossed the valley road, pushed up it as fast as the men could move over the ground. Wright moved in close support of Emory and personally directed the operations of both corps, the Nineteenth as well as the Sixth. So fast did the infantry march that it was ten o'clock at night before Devin, from his place in line on the right of the Sixth Corps, was able to take the road abreast with the Nineteenth, and broad daylight before his or any other horsemen passed the hardy yet toil-worn soldiers of Molineux, who were left all night to lead the swift pursuit. Molineux caused Day to deploy the 131st New York as skirmishers on the right of the road, while the 11th Indiana, led by Macauley, performed the same service on the left. About half-past eight the head of the column first came in contact with the rear-guard of the enemy, but this was soon driven in, and no further resistance was offered until about an hour later, at the crossing of a creek near Woodstock, a brisk fire of musketry, aided by two guns in the road, was opened on Molineux's front, but was quickly silenced. At dawn on the 23d of September Sheridan went into bivouac covering Woodstock, and let the infantry rest until early in the afternoon, when he again took up the pursuit with Wright and Emory, leaving Crook to care for the dead and wounded. Early fell back to Mount Jackson, and was preparing to make a stand when Averell coming up, he and Devin made so vigorous a demonstration with the cavalry alone that Early thought it best to continue his retreat beyond the North Fork to Rude's Hill, which stands between Mount Jackson and New Market.
Sheridan advanced to Mount Jackson on the morning of the 24th of September, and before nightfall had concentrated his whole army there. He was moving his cavalry to envelop both of Early's flanks and the infantry, Wright leading, to attack in front. However, Early did not wait for this, but retreated rapidly in order of battle, pursued by Sheridan in the same order, that is by the right of regiments with an attempt at deploying intervals, through New Market and six miles beyond to a point where a country road diverges through Keezeltown and Cross Keys to Port Republic, at the head of the South Fork. Here both armies halted face to face, Sheridan for the night; but Early, as soon as it was fairly dark, fell back about five miles on the Port Republic road, and again halted at a point about fourteen miles short of that town.
Early's object in quitting the main valley road, which would have conducted him to Harrisonburg, covering Staunton, was to receive once more the reinforcements that Lee, at the first tidings from Winchester, had again hurried forward under Kershaw. On the 25th of September, therefore, Early retreated through Port Republic towards Brown's Gap, where Kershaw, marching from Culpeper through Swift Run Gap, joined him on the 26th. Here also Early's cavalry rejoined him, Wickham from the Luray valley, and Lomax, pressed by Powell, from Harrisonburg.
Sheridan, keeping to the main road, advanced to Harrisonburg with Wright and Emory, leaving Crook to hold the fork of the roads where Early had turned off. At Harrisonburg Torbert rejoined with Merritt and Wilson. Then Sheridan sent Torbert with Wilson and Lowell by Staunton to Waynesboro', where, before quitting the valley by Rockfish Gap, the major road, as well as the railway to Charlottesville, crossed the affluent of the Shenandoah known as the South River. To divert attention from this raid Sheridan reinforced Devin, who, in the absence of Torbert's main body, had been following and observing Early near Port Republic without other cavalry support, and thus Merritt presently ran into Kershaw marching to join Early at Brown's Gap. Early, having gone as far as he wished, turned upon Merritt and drove him across the South Fork, but just then getting the first inkling of Torbert's movements, divined their purpose, and, to check them, marched with all speed, in compact order and with the greatest watchfulness in every direction, on Rockfish Gap. But Torbert, having a good start, won the race, and had accomplished his object when the advance of Early's column came up, and caused him to draw off.
Sheridan, on his part, had gone nearly as far as he intended, but as he meant presently to begin with his cavalry above Staunton the work of destroying the value of the whole valley to the Confederate army, on the 29th he ordered Wright and Emory to Mount Crawford to support Torbert in this work.
Grant, who, ever since he reached the James, had cast longing eyes upon the Virginia Central railway, as well as upon the great junction at Gordonsville, now strongly desired Sheridan to go to Staunton or Charlottesville, but Sheridan set himself firmly against the plan on account of the daily increasing difficulty of supplying his army and the great force that must be wasted in any attempt to keep open a line of communication longer or more exposed than that he already had to maintain. As an alternative, Sheridan, who seems to have thought Early had quitted the valley for good, proposed to bring the Valley campaign to an end with the destruction of the crops, and then to move with his main force to join Grant on the James. Grant, at once agreeing to this, directed Sheridan to keep Crook in the valley and to transfer the rest of his force to the armies before Richmond.
On the morning of the 6th of October Sheridan faced about and began moving down the valley, the infantry leading in the inverse order of its advance, and the cavalry bringing up the rear in one long line that reached from mountain to mountain, busied in burning as it marched the mills, the barns, and everything edible by man or beast. From the Blue Ridge to the Shenandoah Mountains, nothing was spared that might be of use to the Confederates in prolonging the war.
When Early discovered this he followed on the morning of the 7th of October, with his whole force, including Kershaw, as well as the cavalry brigade of Rosser, sent by Lee from Petersburg. The command of all the cavalry being given to Rosser, he at once began treading on the heels of Torbert. On the 9th, at Tom's Brook, Torbert, under the energetic orders of Sheridan to whip the Confederate cavalry or get whipped himself, turned on Rosser, and, after a sharp fight, completely overwhelmed him and hotly pursued his flying columns more than twenty miles up the valley. Several hundred prisoners, eleven guns with their caissons, and many wagons —tersely described by Sheridan "as almost everything on wheels"—fell into the hands of the captors. But more important even than these trophies, confidence in Rosser's cavalry was destroyed at a blow, and its early prestige wiped out forever.
On the 10th of October Sheridan once more crossed Cedar Creek and went into camp, Emory holding the right or west of the valley road, Crook on the left or east of the road, and the cavalry covering the flanks. Wright took up the line of march by Front Royal on Washington.
The first intention of the government was that he should take advantage of the Manassas Gap railway, which was again being restored under the protection of Augur's troops; but this work was not yet completed, and while Wright waited at Front Royal, Grant once more fell back on his first and favorite plan of a movement on Charlottesville and Gordonsville. To effect this he wished Sheridan to take up an advanced position toward the head of the valley, and to this the government added its favorite notion of rebuilding the railways in the rear. Halleck even went so far as to instruct Sheridan to fortify and provision heavily the position Grant had directed him to occupy. All these ideas Sheridan combated with such earnestness that he was summoned to Washington for consultation. Grant at the same time reduced his call on Sheridan for troops for service on the James to the Sixth Corps, and Sheridan, having on his own motion stopped the work on the Manassas Gap railway, ordered Wright to march on Alexandria by Ashby's Gap. Wright set out on the 12th.
Sheridan having lost touch with the main body of the Confederates in returning down the valley, he, in common with Grant and with the government, now thought that Early had quitted the region for good. Sheridan's information placed Early variously at Gordonsville, Charlottesville, and in the neighborhood of Brown's Gap; but in truth, though nothing had been seen of Early's troops for some days, they had never gone out of the valley, but had slowly and at a long and safe interval been following Sheridan's footsteps, so that on the 13th, while Wright was well on his way towards Alexandria, and Sheridan himself was getting ready to go to Washington, Early once more took post at Fisher's Hill, and sent his advance guard directly on to Hupp's Hill to look down into the Union camps on the farther bank of Cedar Creek and see what was going on there. The first news of Early's presence, within two miles of the Union camp, at the very moment when he was thought to be sixty miles away on the line of the Virginia Central railway, was brought by the shells his artillery suddenly dropped among the tents of Crook. Thoburn at once moved out to capture the battery whose missiles had presented themselves as uninvited guests at his dinner-table, but was met by Kershaw and driven back after a sharp fight. Custer, who was covering the right flank of the army, was assailed at the same time by the Confederate cavalry, but easily threw off the attack. At the first sound Torbert sent Merritt from the left to the support of Custer, and afterward Sheridan kept him there.
When on the 12th of October Sheridan received Grant's definite instructions for the movement on Gordonsville and Charlottesville, he ceased to offer any further opposition, yet, realizing that he would need his whole force, he withdrew the order for Wright's movement to Alexandria and sent him word to come back to Cedar Creek. The head of Wright's column was wading the Shenandoah when these orders overtook it. Wright at once faced about, and on the next day, the 14th of October, went into camp behind the lines of Cedar Creek on the right and rear of Emory. No change was made in the positions of the other troops, because, until Sheridan's return from Washington, the policy and plan of the campaign must remain unsettled, and Wright might at any moment be called upon to resume his march.
On the 15th of October Sheridan received formal instructions from Grant, limiting the proposed movement on Charlottesville and Gordonsville to a serious menace, instead of an occupation, and again reducing the call for troops to a single division of cavalry. Sheridan at once sent Merritt in motion toward Chester Gap, directing Powell to follow, and he himself rode with Merritt to Front Royal, meaning to pay his postponed visit to the Secretary of War at Washington; but on the 16th, before quitting Front Royal, he was overtaken by an officer from Wright bringing the words of the strange message read off by our signal officers from the waving flags of the Confederates in plain sight on the crest of Three Top Mountain.(2) This message purported to have been sent by Longstreet to Early. "Be ready," it said, "to move as soon as my forces join you, and we will crush Sheridan." The true story of this despatch has not until now been made public,(3) and many are the surmises, clever or stupid, that have been wasted upon the mystery. In fact, the message was, as both Sheridan and Wright naturally inferred, a trick intended to deceive them; Early thought to induce them to move back without waiting for the attack which, with his reduced strength, he wished to avoid. The effect was to put the Union commanders on their guard against what was actually about to happen. Therefore Sheridan instantly turned back all the cavalry save one regiment, which he kept for an escort, and rode on to Rectortown, and so went by rail to Washington—first, however, taking the precaution to warn Wright to strengthen his position, to close in Powell from Front Royal, to look well to the ground, and to be prepared. In his official report of the campaign, Sheridan, speaking of the events now to be related, said:
"This surprise was owing probably to not closing in Powell or that the cavalry divisions of Merritt and Custer were placed at the right of our line, where it had always occurred to me there was but little danger of attack."
But it is important to observe and remember that although Wright, in sending Longstreet's message, had remarked—
"If the enemy should be strongly reinforced in cavalry he might, by turning my right, give us a great deal of trouble. . . . I shall only fear an attack on my right,"
yet Sheridan in his reply made no allusion to any difference of opinion on his part as to the place of danger. His instructions to close in Powell, Torbert, under Wright's direction, executed by calling in Moore's brigade to cover Buckton's Ford, on the left and rear of Crook. Powell, with the rest of his division, was left at Front Royal to hold off Lomax.
Sheridan went on to Washington. Arriving there on the morning of the 17th, he at once asked for a special train to take him to Martinsburg at noon, and having, between a late breakfast and an early luncheon, transacted all his business at the War Office, including the conversion of the government to his views, set out to rejoin his command. With him went two engineer officers, Alexander and Thom, with whom he was to consult as to the best point, if any, in the lower valley to be fortified and held; for this venerable error was not dead, merely sleeping.
Torbert rejoined the army at Cedar Creek on the 16th, and Merritt took up his old position on the right. On the same night Rosser took one of his brigades with a brigade of infantry mounted behind the horsemen, and, supported by the whole of Early's army, set out to capture the outlying brigade of Custer's division, but found instead a single troop on picket duty. This he took, but it was a rather mortifying issue to his heavy preparations and great expectations, and a long price to pay for putting Torbert on the alert.
For the next two days nothing was seen of Early, although the cavalry and both of the infantry corps of the main line kept a good watch toward the front. There was some probability that Early would attack, especially if he should have heard of Wright's departure and not of his return. That Early must either attack soon or withdraw to the head of the valley was certain, for Sheridan had stripped the country of the supplies on which the Confederates had been accustomed to rely, and Early had now to feed his men and animals by the long haul of seventy-five miles from Staunton. It was thus that Wright viewed the situation, and in fact the same things were passing through the mind of Early. On the 18th of October, Crook, by Wright's orders, sent Harris with his brigade of Thoburn's division, to find out where Early really was and what he was doing. How far Harris went is not certainly known, but when he returned at nightfall he reported that he had been to Early's old camps and found them evacuated. In reality Early was at Fisher's Hill with his whole force, engaged in his last preparations for the surprise of the morrow, but the report brought back by Harris soon spread as a camp rumor among the officers and men of Crook, so that they may have slept that night without thought of danger near, and even the vigilance of their picket line, as well as that of the cavalry to whom they largely looked for protection against a surprise, may or may not have been inopportunely relaxed.
For Early, warned of the strength of Sheridan's right, by the failure of Rosser's adventure, had since been studying the chances of an attack on the opposite flank. To this indeed the very difficulty of the approach invited, for in all wars enterprises apparently impracticable have been carelessly guarded against and positions apparently impregnable have been loosely watched and lightly defended, so that it might not be too much to say that every insurmountable difficulty has been surmounted and every impregnable stronghold taken. Such apprehensions as the commander of the Union army may be supposed to have entertained were directed toward his right, where Torbert was, and where the back road to Winchester gave easy access to his rear.
While Early was engaged in considering this plan, he sent Gordon, accompanied by Major Hotchkiss of the engineers, to the signal station on the crest of Three Top Mountain to examine the position of the Union army and to study the details of the proposed movement. From this height these officers looked down upon the country about Cedar Creek as upon an amphitheatre and saw the Union camps as in a panorama. Every feature was in plain view; they counted the tents; they noted the dispositions for attack; they made out the exact situation of the various headquarters; and casting careful glances into the shadowy depths of the Shenandoah, winding about the foot of the mountain far below them, they perceived that the flank of Three Top afforded a footing for the passage of the infantry at least. Upon this information Early was not long in deciding upon his course. Under cover of the night he would send the divisions of Gordon, Ramseur, and Pegram,(4) all under the command of Gordon, over the Shenandoah near Fisher's Hill, across the ox-bow, to the foot of Three Top. Thence picking his way over the foot of the mountain, Gordon in two columns was to cross the river a second time at McInturff's Ford, just below the mouth of Cedar Creek and at Bowman's Ford, several hundred yards below. There he would find himself on the flank and in easy reach of the rear of Crook, and indeed of the whole Union army, with nothing but a thin line of pickets to hinder the rush. While Gordon was thus stealthily creeping into position for his spring, Early meant to take Kershaw and Wharton upon the valley road and quietly to gain a good position for assailing Crook and Emory in front, as soon as the rifles of Gordon should be heard toward the rear. Rosser was to drive in the cavalry on the right of the Union army, while Lomax, from the Luray, was expected to gain the valley road somewhere near Newtown, so as to cut off the retreat. Everything that could jingle or rattle was to be left behind, and the march was to be made in dead silence, while, as the rumble of the guns would be sure to reveal the movement, the whole of the artillery was massed at Strasburg, all ready to gallop to the front as soon as the battle should begin.
A closer study of the trail showed Gordon that it would be possible, however difficult and risky, for dismounted troopers to lead their horses over the path already marked out for his infantry. Accordingly the cavalry brigade of Payne was added to Gordon's column, and after surprising and making good the passage of the fords, the first duty of these horsemen was to ride straight to Belle Grove House and capture Sheridan. Early supposed Sheridan to be still present in command.
Bold as was Early's design of surprising and attacking the vastly superior forces of Sheridan, under conditions that must inevitably stake everything upon the hazard of complete success, it may well be doubted whether in the whole history of war an instance can be found of any similar plan so carefully and successfully arranged and so completely carried out in every detail, up to the moment that must be looked for in the execution of every operation of war, when the shock of battle comes and puts even the wisest prevision in suspense.
(1) As the wounding of Sharpe left no officer present with his brigade of higher rank than lieutenant-colonel, Emory took Colonel Daniel Macauley, 11th Indiana, from the 4th brigade and placed him in command of the 3d.
(2) According to Sheridan, agreeing with the general recollection of the survivors; but Wright and Early both say Round Top, which is behind Fisher's Hill. Might not the message sent from Round Top have been repeated from Three Top?
(3) To the courtesy and kindness of General Early, the author is greatly indebted for the key to the riddle. Under date of Lynchburg, Virginia, November 6, 1890, he writes: "The signal message . . . was altogether fictitious. As Sheridan's troops occupied the north bank of Cedar Creek in such a strong position as to render it impracticable for me to attack them in front, I went to the signal station just in my rear for the purpose of examining the position, and I found the officer in charge of the station reading some signals that were being sent by the Federal signal agents. I then asked him if the other side could read his signals and he told me that they had discovered the key to the signals formerly used, but that a change had been made. I then wrote the message purporting to be from Longstreet and had it signalled in full view of the Federal signal men whom we saw on the hill in front of my position, so that it might be read by them. My object was to induce Sheridan to move back his troops from the position they then occupied, and I am inclined to think that if he had then been present with his command he would have done so. However, the movement was not made, and I then determined to make the attack which was made on the 19th of October. The object of that attack was to prevent any troops from being returned to Grant's army."
(4) Observe that Ramseur was now commanding the division that had been Rodes's; Pegram having succeeded to Ramseur's old division.
CHAPTER XXXIV. CEDAR CREEK.
The ground whereon the Army of the Shenandoah now found itself was the same on which Sheridan had left it, the troops were the same, and the formations were in all important particulars the same as when he had been present in command, strengthened, however, by additional entrenchments. Twice before the army had occupied the same line, and on both occasions Sheridan had emphatically condemned it as a very bad one. Briefly, the position was formed by the last great outward bend of Cedar Creek before its waters mingle with those of the Shenandoah, the left flank resting lightly on the river, the centre strongly across the valley road, and the extreme right on the creek near the end of the bow.
Crook held a high and partly wooded height or range of heights on the left or east (1) of the valley road, and nearly parallel with it. Thoburn occupied the most advanced spur overlooking the mouth of the creek, while on his left and rear Hayes and Kitching faced toward the Shenandoah with their backs to the road. As the road descended to cross Cedar Creek by the bridge (2) and ford, it followed the course of a rivulet on its left, and three quarters of a mile from Crook, on the opposite side of this ravine and of the road, Emory was posted on a hill whose crest rose steeply a hundred and fifty feet above the bed of the creek. Here Emory planted nearly the whole of his artillery to command the bridge and the neighboring ford and the approaches on the opposite bank, but the slope and crest of this hill were completely and easily commanded from the higher ground held by Thoburn and by Hayes. From the valley road on the left, Emory's line stretched crescent-wise, until its right rested upon a natural bastion formed by the highest part of the hill, whence the descent is precipitous, not only to the creek in front, but on the flank to the gorge of Meadow Brook. This little stream rising some miles farther north near Newtown, and flowing now between high banks and again through marshy borders in a general direction nearly parallel to the road, empties into Cedar Creek about three quarters of a mile above the bridge. Just below the mouth of the brook Cedar Creek can be crossed by a ford lying nearly in a direct prolongation of the line of the valley road from the point where in descending it swerves to the east to pass the bridge, and midway between the bridge and the Meadow Brook ford is still another ford overlooked by Emory's right wing and commanded by the guns of his artillery. Dwight's division formed the right of Emory's line and Grover's the left. From right to left the front line was composed of the brigades of Thomas, Molineux, Birge, and Macauley, with Davis in reserve supporting Thomas, and Shunk, likewise in reserve, supporting Macauley and Birge.(3)
The fronts of Emory and Crook overlooking the creek were strongly entrenched, and Crook was engaged in extending his line of works toward the left and rear of Thoburn to cover the front of Hayes, but this fresh line was as yet unoccupied. Wright's corps, commanded by Ricketts during the absence of Sheridan, while Wright himself commanded the army, was held in reserve on the high ground known as Red Hill overlooking Meadow Brook from the eastward, the divisions encamped for convenience in a sort of irregular echelon, with Ricketts's, under Keifer, in front, Upton's, commanded by Wheaton, on the right and rear in close support, and Getty's on the left and rear of both, and thus nearer to the valley road than either. Behind the Sixth Corps, opposite Middletown, on the high ground on both sides of Marsh Run, was Merritt, and far away on his right, watching the approaches and the crossing by the back road, stood Custer.
As the Sixth Corps held no part of the front, but formed a general reserve, its position was not entrenched. Torbert, Emory, and Crook each picketed and watched his own front, and there was not a horseman between the infantry and the supposed position of the enemy at or beyond Fisher's Hill.
Emory had for some days been distrustful of the excessive tranquillity, and on the previous evening his uneasiness had rather been augmented by a report that came to him from Thomas of a little group of men in citizens' dress that had been seen during the day moving about on the edge of Hupp's Hill, as if engaged in noting with more intentness than is usual among civilians the arrangement of the Union camps. This incident Emory reported to Wright for what it might be worth, and Wright, on his part, being already doubtful of the exactness of the information brought in by Harris, ordered Emory and Torbert each to send out a strong reconnoitring party in the early morning, to move in parallel columns on the valley road and on the back road, with the significant caution that they were to go far enough to find out whether Early was still at Fisher's Hill or not.
After crossing the Shenandoah and reaching the foot of Three Top, Gordon halted his men for a few hours' rest before the hard work awaiting them. At one o'clock he silently took up the line of march over the rugged trail toward McInturff's and Bowman's fords, and at five o'clock seized both crossings, with the merest show of resistance from Moore's outlying brigade, and pressed on to Cooley's house, the white house he had noted from Three Top. This landmark, as he knew, was barely thirteen hundred yards from the nearest flank of his enemy. He passed nearly half that distance beyond the house and, as pre-arranged, silently formed his three divisions for the attack. Within five minutes he could be in Kitching's camp.
At the last moment, hearing that Crook was strengthening his entrenchments, Early so far changed his plan as to part company with Wharton at Strasburg, and then, bearing off to the right, to conduct Kershaw to the banks of Cedar Creek at the ford that now bears the name of Roberts. This is about twelve hundred yards above the mouth of the creek; and there, at half-past three in the morning, in the long shadows of the full moon,(4) Early stood with Kershaw at his back and the sleeping ranks of Thoburn directly in his front, and waited only for the appointed hour. At half-past four, Early again set Kershaw in motion. The crossing of Cedar Creek was unobserved and unopposed. Once on the north bank, Kershaw deployed to the right and left, and stood to arms listening for Gordon.
Wharton, who had already formed under cover of the tress, on the edge of Hupp's Hill, crept down the slope to the front of the wood, and there, likewise in shadow, hardly a thousand feet from the bridge and the middle ford, he too watched for the signal.
To crown all, as the dawn drew near a light fog descended upon the river bottom and covered all objects as with a veil.
Almost from the beginning it had been the custom of the Nineteenth Army Corps, at all times when in the presence of the enemy, to stand to arms at daybreak. Moreover as Molineux was to go out on a reconnoissance by half-past five, his men had breakfasted and were lying on their arms waiting for the order to march. Birge and Macauley were to be ready to follow in support after a proper interval, and Shunk was to cover the front of all three during their absence. McMillan had also been notified to support the movement of Grover's brigades. Emory himself was up and dressed, the horses of his staff were saddled, and his own horses were being saddled, when from the left a startling sound broke the stillness of the morning air.
This was the roar of the one tremendous volley by which Kershaw made known his presence before the sleeping camp of Thoburn. In an instant, before a single shot could be fired in return, before the muskets could be taken from the stacks, before the cannoneers could reach their pieces, Kershaw's men, with loud and continuous yells, swarmed over the parapet in Thoburn's front, seized the guns, and sent his half-clad soldiers flying to the rear. Thus Kershaw, who a moment before had been without artillery, suddenly found himself in possession of the seven guns that had been planted to secure Thoburn's ground. Then upon Emory and upon Hayes, as well as against the flying fugitives, he turned the cannon thus snatched from their own comrades.
At the first sound Molineux moved his men back into the rifle-pits they had left an hour before, and Emory, ordering his corps to stand to arms, rode at once to the left of his line at the valley road to find out the meaning of this strange outbreak. Knowing that Molineux was near and ready, Emory drew from him two regiments, the 22d Iowa and the 3d Massachusetts, to support the artillery planted on the left to command the bridge. Hardly had this been done when the shells began to fall among the guns and to enfilade the lines of the infantry. What could this mean but the thing that had actually happened to Thoburn? Grover joined Emory, Crook came from Belle Grove, and Wright from his camp beyond Meadow Brook. The fugitives from Thoburn's unfortunate division went streaming by.
Then suddenly from the left and rear came the startling rattle of the rifles that told of Gordon's attack on the exposed flank of Hayes and Kitching. While all eyes were directed toward Kershaw, Gordon, still further favored by the fog, the outcry, and the noise of the cannonade, was not perceived by the troops of Hayes and Kitching until the instant when his solid lines of battle, unheralded by a single skirmisher of his own, and unannounced by those set to watch against him, fell upon the ranks of Crook. He tried in vain to form on the road. Startled from their sleep by the surprise of their comrades on their right, and naturally shaken by the disordered rush of the fugitives through their ranks, his men, old soldiers and good soldiers as they were, gave way at the first onset, before the fire of Gordon had become heavy and almost without stopping to return it.
Then swiftly Gordon and Kershaw moved together against the uncovered left and rear of Emory, while at the same time Early, who after seeing Kershaw launched, had ridden back for Wharton and the artillery, was bringing them into position for a front attack. Besides the sounds that had aroused Emory and Crook, Wright, from his more remote position, had listened to the rattle of Rosser's carbines,(5) but after a moment of natural doubt had perceived that the true attack was on the left, and accordingly he had ordered Ricketts to advance with Getty and Keifer to the valley road toward the sound of the battle. If this was to be of the least advantage, the valley road must be somehow held by somebody until Ricketts should come. Emory sent Thomas across the road into the ravine and the wood beyond, and bade him stand fast at all hazards. But the time was too short. Thomas, after a desperate resistance, was forced back by the overwhelming masses of Kershaw, yet not until this tried brigade had left a third of its number on the ground to attest its valor. About the colors of the 8th Vermont the fight was furious. Again and again the colors were down; three bearers were slain; before the sun rose two men out of three had fallen, that the precious emblems might be saved.(6) Thus were many priceless minutes won. Then, as there was no longer anything to hinder the advance of Kershaw on the left, and of Gordon on the rear, while Wharton and the forty guns of Early's artillery were beginning their work in front, from the left toward the right, successively the brigades of the Nineteenth Corps began to give way; yet as they drifted toward the right and rear, in that stress the men held well to their colors, and although there may and must have been many that fell out, not a brigade or a regiment lost its organization for a moment.
When the pressure reached Molineux and Davis on the reverse side of the entrenchments, both brigades began moving off, under Emory's orders, by the right flank to take position near Belle Grove on the right of Ricketts's division of the Sixth Corps, which had come up and was trying to extend its line diagonally to reach the valley road. To cover this position and to hold off the onward rush of Gordon, Emory had already posted the 114th and the 153d New York on the commanding knoll five hundred yards to the southward overlooking the road. When driven off these regiments rejoined their brigade before Belle Grove. Thither also came the detached regiments of Molineux, and there Neafie joined them with the 3d brigade, after a strong stand at their breastworks, wherein Macauley fell severely wounded, and the 156th and 176th had hard fighting hand-to-hand to keep their colors, at the cost of the staves. Birge retired along the line of works to the open ground beyond Meadow Brook, where Shunk joined him.
In quitting their posts at the breastworks Haley, having lost forty-nine horses killed in harness, had to abandon three guns of his 1st Maine battery, and Taft lost three pieces of his 5th New York battery at the difficult crossing of Meadow Brook. There, too, from the same cause, three guns of the 17th Indiana and two of the Rhode Island battery were abandoned. The losses of the infantry were to be counted in thousands. Grover was slightly wounded; Macauley, as has been said, severely. Emory had lost both his horses, and was for a time commanding the corps afoot. Birge rode a mule. Thus the Nineteenth Corps lost eleven guns. Crook had already lost seven, and the Sixth Corps was presently to lose six.
With Gordon on his flank and rear, every moment drawing nearer to the mastery of the valley road, Wright had to think, and to think quickly, of the safety and the success of the army he commanded. For it there was no longer a position south of Middletown. What security was there that Custer and Powell would be able all day long to hold off, as in the event they did, the flank and rear attacks of Rosser and of Lomax? What if the Longstreet message were true and yet a third surprise in store? Time, time was needed, whether to bring up the troops or to change front, to march to the rear past the faces of the advancing enemy, to hold him in check, and to re-form. Whatever was to be done was to be done quickly; and Wright, throwing prudence into the balance, made up his mind for a retreat to a fresh position, where his line of communications would be preserved and its flanks protected. Middletown and the cavalry camp pointed out the ground. Accordingly he gave the word to Getty, Ricketts being wounded, to retire on Middletown, guiding on the valley road, and to Emory to form on Getty's right—that is, on the left of the Sixth Corps in retreat. The battle had been raging for nearly an hour when Wright gave this order to abandon Belle Grove. The retreat threw upon Getty's division, now under Grant, the severe task of covering the exposed right flank of the army in retreat, while the left was gradually swinging into the direction of the new line. Getty, having handsomely performed this service, crossed Meadow Brook abreast with Middletown and took position on the high and partly wooded ground that rises beyond the brook to the west of the village and on a line with Merritt's camp. Here, on the southern edge of the village cemetery and on the crest behind it, Getty planted his artillery, posted Grant to hold the immediate front, and somewhat in his rear, under the trees, following the contour of the hill, as it rises toward the west, he placed Wheaton and Keifer.
To reach his position on the left of Getty in retreat, Emory had to gain ground to the westward, to descend the hill from Belle Grove, to cross Meadow Brook, and climbing the opposite slope to face about and re-form his line in good order on the crest of Red Hill. Here, before Dr. Shipley's house, nearly across the ground where the men of Wheaton and of Getty had slept the night before, for the best part of an hour Emory stood at bay. Kershaw followed over the Belle Grove Hill, across Meadow Brook, up the slope of Red Hill, and formed line facing north; but then, seeing the fighting part of Emory's infantry before him and the formidable array of Merritt's cavalry in close support, he refrained from renewing the attack until Early could send Gordon to his aid. Thus the bold stand at Red Hill gave the time the situation craved, and while Kershaw waited, Emory, following his orders from Wright, crossed over to the cemetery (7) and placed himself on the west of Getty. Thomas rejoined McMillan. Torbert meanwhile had moved over with Merritt to the left flank. Thus around the cemetery, about half-past seven, the unshaken strength of the Army of the Shenandoah was gathered, every eye looking once more toward the south.
While awaiting the general attack for which Early was plainly preparing, Wright deployed his lines, according to the ground, from the south wall of the cemetery overlooking Meadow Brook on the left, in a rough echelon of divisions to Marsh Brook on the right, in order of Grant, Keifer, Wheaton, Grover, McMillan. Between the arms of Marsh Brook, in front and behind the Old Forge road, on open ground nearly as high as Getty's, Emory formed his corps in echelon of brigades. Here, not doubting that the decisive combat of the day was to be fought, Emory began fortifying his front with the help of loose rails and stones.
To protect himself against the menacing movement of the cavalry on his right in front of Middletown, Early posted Ramseur with two batteries directly across the valley road, and when he saw Getty's stand near the cemetery, he brought Wharton directly down the road and sent him to the attack, but this Getty easily threw off and drove back Wharton in such confusion that before renewing the attempt Early waited to complete a new line of battle almost perpendicular to his first and therefore to the road. From the right at Middletown to the left at Red Hill the new line was formed by Pegram, Ramseur, Kershaw, and Gordon, with Wharton behind Pegram. On the right of this line also Early massed the forty guns of his artillery augmented by some of the twenty-four pieces taken from the Union army.
And now the increasing heat of the sun dissolved the fog, and revealed to the combatants the true situation of affairs. To Early the position of the Union army, its salient, as it were, lying directly before him where he stood, seemed so strong that he hesitated to hazard another attack until the concentrated fire of his artillery should have produced an impression, while to Wright, not only was the menace of Early's artillery very obvious, but the weakness of his own left flank, broken by Meadow Brook and adhering lightly to the valley road, was still present.
The force of Early's first onset was spent; his one chance of seizing and holding the valley road in the rear of the Union army had slipped away, while his cavalry had utterly failed to accomplish any part of the task confided to it. Time and strength had both been lost to the Confederates by the uncontrollable plunder of the camps and the sutlers' stores.
The Old Forge road is but a country lane that crosses the field from the north end of Middletown. It afforded no position, its chief value being as uniting the wings of the army, and Wright's object in taking up this line was simply to gain time to develop a better fighting line still farther to the rear. Now, seeing that Getty had accomplished his purpose in holding on at the cemetery, Wright ordered him to move slowly, in line of battle, toward the north, guiding on the valley road, with Merritt's cavalry beyond it following and covering the operation, while Emory, taking up the movement in his turn, was to look to Wheaton for his guide. Wright's order found Emory's men in the act of completing their hasty defences, while Emory was moving about among them strongly declaring his purpose not to go back another inch.
Getty began by withdrawing Grant, and when Grant had passed for some distance beyond the left of Keifer, his right in retreat, Keifer followed, while on his left, in retreat, Wheaton, and on Wheaton's left Emory marched, as nearly as may be, shoulder to shoulder in a solid line. Thus Keifer formed the centre of the retreating line of battle, with Ball on his right and Emerson on his left. Having to pass over rough ground and among trees, the line was broken to the reversed front by the right of regiments, the head of each guiding on its right-hand neighbor. Thus it happened (8) that in passing through a thick wood, Keifer's division was split in two, his brigades losing sight of one another, so that on coming once more into the open field, Ball found himself alone with no other troops in sight on either hand; but soon hearing the sound of Getty's guns over the right shoulder, he faced about and marched back to a stone wall upon a lane, where he found Getty already in position. Emerson, however, moving more quickly through the wood, because the ground was easier, continued his march toward the north, continually bearing to the right as he went, in order to regain the lost touch with Ball, while on the left Wheaton and Emory, knowing nothing of the break, naturally and gradually conformed to the movement of Emerson. Finally, when the left of the line once more entered the woods, Emerson, gradually changing the direction toward the right, drifted Wheaton away from Emory, and when this was perceived by the commanders, each began to look for his neighbor. It is also probable that when the separation took place the interval was gradually widened by Emory's movement with his right resting on a road that, while apparently following the true line of direction, really carried him every moment a little farther toward the left. However that may be, when almost at the same instant Wheaton and Emory halted and faced about, they found themselves about eight hundred yards apart, a thousand yards behind the line that Getty had just taken up, on the westward prolongation of which Keifer had joined him with the brigade of Ball.
The affair had now lasted five hours; the retreat was at an end; a tactical accident had carried it half a mile farther than was intended; as it was, from the extreme front of Emory at daybreak to his extreme rear at eleven o'clock, the measured distance was but four miles. Every step of the way had been traversed under orders—under orders that had carried the Nineteenth Corps three times across the field of battle, so that its march, from Belle Grove to the Old Forge road, might be represented by the letter N.
When Early saw the Union line retreating, he moved forward to the cross-road beyond the cemetery, and posted his troops behind the stone walls. Wharton extended the line on the east side of the turnpike, with three batteries massed between him and the road. Pegram covered the turnpike, his left resting on Meadow Brook, and beyond it Ramseur, Kershaw, and Gordon carried the line to the east bank of Middle Marsh Brook. Early had now two courses open to him: one was to extricate his army from its position, with its enemy directly in front and Cedar Creek in rear, before the Union commander could take the initiative; the other was to attack vigorously with all his force before the Union infantry should be able to complete the new line of battle now plainly in the act of formation. In either case, although he could easily see than on both flanks the line of his infantry far overlapped that of his antagonist, Early must have perceived that he had to reckon with the whole mass of the Union cavalry, unshaken and as yet untouched. Moreover, his men had already done a long and hard day's work after a short night.
Depleted as were the ranks of the Union infantry by the heavy battle losses of the early morning, and the still heavier losses by the misconduct of the stragglers of all the corps except the cavalry, it was not to be doubted that the men who stood by the colors on the Old Forge road meant to abide to the end. As all old soldiers know, the fighting line, granting that enough remain to make a fighting line, is never so strong as the moment after the first shock of battle has shaken out the men that always straggle on the march and skulk on the field. When, therefore, the first compact line faced about, it was with determination and with hope; yet scarcely had the fires of resolution been relit and begun to kindle to a glow than they were suddenly extinguished and all was plunged in gloom by the unlooked-for order to retreat. Upon the whole army a lethargy fell, and though every man expected and stood ready to do his duty, it was with a certain listlessness amounting almost to indifference that he waited for what was to come next. In the sensations of most, hunger was perhaps uppermost, and while some munched the bread and meat from their haversacks and other waited to make coffee, many threw themselves upon the ground where they stood and fell asleep.
Far down the road from among the crowd of fugitives, where no man on that field cared to look, came a murmur like the breaking of the surf on a far-off shore. Nearer it drew, grew louder, and swelled to a tumult. Cheers! The cheers of the stragglers. As the men instinctively turned toward the sound, they were seized with amazement to see the tide of stragglers setting strongly toward the south. Then out from among them, into the field by the roadside, cantered a little man on a black horse, and from the ranks of his own cavalry arose a cry of "Sheridan!" Through all the ranks the message flashed, and, as if it had been charged by the electric spark, set every man on his feet and made his heart once more beat high within him.
This was Wednesday, and Sheridan, before finally setting out for Washington, had told Wright to look for him on Tuesday. Rapidly despatching, as has been seen, his business at the War Office, Sheridan left Washington by the special train he had asked for at noon on the 17th, accompanied by the engineers charged with the duty of selecting the position that Halleck wished to fortify. They slept that night at Martinsburg, and rode the next day, the 18th of October, to Winchester. There Sheridan learned that all was well with his army and was also told of the reconnoissances projected for the next morning. He determined to remain at Winchester in order to go over the ground the next morning with the engineers. Aroused about six o'clock by the report of heavy firing, he ascribed it to the reconnoitring column, and thought but little of it until, between half-past eight and nine, having finished his breakfast, he became uneasy at the continued sound of the cannon. Then mounting "Rienzi," accompanied by his staff and followed by his escort, he rode out to join his army where he had left it, fourteen miles away, on the banks of Cedar Creek. The fight of the morning had come to an end an hour ago. Riding at an easy trot half a mile out on the hill beyond Abraham's Creek,(9) he was shocked to see the tattered and dishevelled head of the column of stragglers, every man making the best of his way toward the Potomac, without his arms, his equipments, or his knapsack, carrying, in short, nothing but what he wore. Most of these must have been shaken out of the ranks when Kershaw surprised the camp of Thoburn. If this be so, they had travelled more than thirteen miles in little more than three hours.
This appalling sight brought to Sheridan's mind the Longstreet message, "Be ready when I join you, and we will crush Sheridan." Should he stop his routed army at Winchester and fight there? No, he must go to his men, restore their broken ranks, or share their fate. How he rode on has been made famous in song and story, yet never so well told as in the modest narrative, stamped in every line with the impress of the soldier's truthful frankness, than in the entertaining volumes that were the last work of the great leader's life.(10)
Once arrived on the field, about half-past ten or perhaps eleven o'clock, Sheridan lost no time in assuming personal command of the army. Establishing his headquarters on the hill behind Getty, he proceeded to complete the dispositions he found already in progress. He saw at a glance that the line on which Wright had placed Getty was well chosen; and though knowing nothing of the break that had taken place during the accidental loss of direction by the left wing of Getty's corps, and so wrongly inferring from what he saw that Getty was a mere rear-guard, he yet adopted the position for his fighting line, sent his staff officers with orders for the rest of the troops to form on that line, and thus actually completed the arrangements begun by Wright. It sufficed that Emerson, Wheaton, and Emory should face about, as they were already about to do, and should form on the prolongation of Getty's line. This they did promptly and in perfect order. Wright resumed the command of the Sixth Corps and Getty of his own division. Then feeling his left quite strong enough under Merritt's care, Sheridan sent Custer, for whom he had other designs, back to the right flank.
It was past noon before all this was accomplished. Then Sheridan, content with the position and appearance of his own army, and perceiving that Early was getting ready to attack him, acted on the suggestion of Major George Forsyth, his aide-de-camp, and rode the length of the line of battle in order to show himself to his men. A tumult of cheers greeted him and followed him as, hat in hand, he passed in front of regiment after regiment, speaking a few words of encouragement to each. Sheridan possessed in a degree unequalled the power of raising in the hearts of his soldiers the sort of enthusiasm that, transmuting itself into action, causes men to attempt impossibilities, and to disregard and overcome obstacles. Almost from the moment of entering the valley he had gained the confidence of the infantry, to whom he had been a stranger. By the cavalry he had long been idolized. The feeling of an army for its general is a thing not to be reasoned with or explained away; once aroused, it belongs to him as exclusively as the expression of his face, the manner of his gait, or the form of his signature, and is not to be transferred to his successor or delegated even to the ablest of his lieutenants, whatever the skill, the merit, or the reputation of either. The mere presence of Sheridan in the ranks of the Army of the Shenandoah that day brought with it the assurance of victory.
Emory at first formed his corps in two lines, the First division under Dwight, whom Sheridan had released from arrest, on the right, and Grover on the left; but soon the whole corps was deployed in one line in the order from right to left by brigades of McMillan, Davis, Birge, Molineux, Neafie, Shunk.
When the line of the Old Forge road was abandoned by Wright, Early moved forward and occupied it. Between one and two o'clock he advanced Gordon and Kershaw to attack Wheaton and Emory. Seeing that the weight of the attack was about to fall on the right, Sheridan sent Wheaton to the support of Emory. However, Gordon's onset proved so light that no assistance was needed, for, after three or four volleys had been exchanged, the attack was easily and completely thrown off. Kershaw's movement was even more feeble.
Several causes now delayed the counter attack of Sheridan. Crook was endeavoring to re-form the stragglers on his colors behind Merritt. Apprehension of the coming of Longstreet was only dissipated by the information gained from prisoners during the afternoon, and finally arose a false rumor of the appearance of a column of Confederate cavalry in the rear toward Winchester; and this seemed plausible enough until at last word came from Powell that he was still holding off Lomax. Then Sheridan gave the signal for the whole line to go forward against the enemy, beginning with Getty on the left, as a pivot, while the whole right was to sweep onward, and, driving the enemy before it, to swing toward the valley road near the camps of the morning.
About four Getty started, and the movement being taken up in succession toward the right, in a few minutes the whole line was advancing steadily. From that moment to the end the men hardly stopped an instant for anything. The resistance of the Confederates, though at first steady, and here and there even spirited, was of short duration. For a few moments, indeed, the attack seemed to hang on the extreme right as McMillan, rushing on even more rapidly than the order of the combat demanded, found himself suddenly enveloped by the right wheel of the brigade of Evans, forming the extreme left of the division of Gordon and of the Confederate army. But while McMillan was thus attacked and his leading troops were called to meet the danger, this, as suddenly as it had come, was swept away by the swift onset of Davis directly upon the front and flank of Evans. To do this Davis had not only to act instantly, but also to change front under a double fire; yet he and his brigade were equal to the emergency, and McMillan joining in, together they not only threw off the attack of Evans, but bursting through the re-entrant angle of Gordon's line, quickly swept Evans off the field. Knowing this to be the critical point of his line, because the wheeling flank, Sheridan was there. "Stay where you are," was his order, "till you see my boy Custer over there."
Then upon the high ground appeared Custer at the head of his bold troopers, making ready to swoop down upon the broken wing of Gordon. Almost at the same instant, the whole right of the line rushed to the charge, and while Custer rode down Gordon's left flank, Dwight, with McMillan and Davis, began rolling up the whole Confederate line. Meanwhile, on the left centre the Union attack likewise hung for a moment, where Molineux, on the southerly slope of a wooded hollow, saw himself confronted by Kershaw on the opposite crest, only to be reached by climbing the steep bare side of the "dirt hill." But the keen eye of Molineux easily saw through the difficulties of the ground, and when he was ready his men and Birge's, rising up and together charging boldly out of the hollow, up the hill, across the open ground, and over the stone wall, in the face of a fierce fire, settled the overthrow of Kershaw and sent a panic running down the line of Ramseur. Wright attacking with equal vigor, soon the disorder spread through every part of Early's force, and in rout and ruin the exultant victors of the morning were flying up the valley.
"Back to your camps!" had been the watchword ever since Sheridan showed himself on the field. Dwight's men were the first to stand once more upon their own ground, but by that time Sheridan's army had executed, though without much regard to order, a complete left wheel. While the infantry took up its original positions, the cavalry pursued the flying enemy with such vigor that an accidental displacement of a single plank on a little bridge near Strasburg caused the whole of Early's artillery that had not yet passed on, to fall into the hands of Sheridan. Thus were taken 48 cannon, 52 caissons, all the ambulances that had been lost in the morning, many wagons, and seven battle flags; of the artillery 24 pieces were the same that had been lost in the early morning. From every part of the abandoned field great stacks of rifles were gathered. The prisoners taken were about 1,200, according to the reports of Sheridan's officers, or something over 1,000 by Early's account. Early also gives his loss in killed and wounded, without distinguishing between the two, as 1,860, and reports the capture of 1,429 prisoners from the Union army in the early hours of the day. Of these he had made sure by sending them promptly to the rear. Ramseur was mortally wounded in the last stand made by his division, and died a few days later in the hands and under the care of his former comrades of Sheridan's army.
Sheridan's loss was 644 killed, 3,430 wounded, and 1,591 captured or missing; in all, 5,665. Of these the Sixth Corps had 298 killed, 1,628 wounded—together, 1,926; the Nineteenth Corps 257 killed, 1,336 wounded—together, 1,593. Crook lost 60 killed, 342 wounded —together, 402; the cavalry 29 killed, 224 wounded—together, 253. The missing were thus divided: Wright 194, Emory 776, Crook 548, Torbert 43. The greatest proportionate loss of the day was suffered by the 114th New York, which had 21 killed, 86 wounded, including 17 mortally, and 8 missing—in all, 115 out of 250 engaged. Its fatal casualties reached 15.2, and the killed and wounded 42.8 per cent. of the number engaged. These figures are from the corrected reports of the War Department. The missing exceed the captured, as set down in Early's report, by only 132. Among the killed and mortally wounded were Bidwell, Thoburn, Kitching, and that superb soldier and accomplished gentleman, General Charles Russell Lowell, who, although severely wounded in the morning, at the head of his brigade held fast to the stone wall until, in the last decisive charge, his death-blow came. Grover received a second severe wound early in the final charge that broke the Confederate left. Birge then took his division.
Without a halt and with scarcely a show of organized resistance, Early retreated to Fisher's Hill. Merritt and Custer, uniting on the south bank of Cedar Creek, kept up the pursuit until the night was well advanced, but soon their captures became so heavy in men and material, that help was needed to take care of them, so, barely an hour after going into camp the jaded infantry of Dwight once more turned out and marched with alacrity to Strasburg.
Toward morning Early withdrew his infantry from the lines of Fisher's Hill, and marched on New Market, leaving Rosser to cover the movement. In the morning, upon Torbert's approach, Rosser retired, closely pursued to Edenburg, sending Lomax to the Luray to guard the right flank of the retreating Confederates.
The strength of the contending forces in this remarkable battle may always give ground for dispute. No official figures exist to determine the question directly; therefore on either side the numbers are a matter of opinion. The author's, formed after a careful consideration of all the authorities, is that when the battle began, Wright commanded an effective force of not more than 31,000 officers and men of all arms, made up of 9,000 in the Sixth Corps, 9,500 in the Nineteenth Corps, 6,000 in Crook's command, and 6,500 cavalry. The infantry probably numbered 23,000: Ricketts 8,500, Emory 9,000, Crook 5,500. Of these, therefore, the hard fighting fell on 17,500. The losses in the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps, nearly all incurred in the early morning, being about 4,500, the two corps should have mustered 13,500 for the counter-attack of the afternoon, yet the ground they then stood upon, from the road to the brook, measures barely 7,400 feet. With all allowances, therefore, Sheridan cannot have taken more than 8,000 of his infantry into this attack. This leaves out Crook's men bodily, and calls for 5,500 unrepentant stragglers from the ranks of Emory and Wright —one man in three. After all is said, unhappily there is nothing so extraordinary in this, but strange indeed would it have been if many of these skulkers had come back into the fight, as Sheridan considerately declares they did.
As to Early's force, the difficulty of coming to a positive conclusion is even greater. General Early himself says he went into the battle with but 8,800 muskets. General Dawes, perhaps the most accomplished statistician of the war, makes the total present for duty 22,000; of these 15,000 would be infantry. The figures presented by the unprejudiced statistician of the "Century War Book" (11) call for 15,000 of all arms. Of these 10,000 would be infantry.
Early may be said to have accomplished the ultimate object of his attack at Cedar Creek, yet at a fearful cost, for although all thought of transferring any part of Sheridan's force to the James was for the moment given up, on the other hand Early had completed the destruction (12) of his prestige, had suffered an irreparable diminution of numbers, and had seen his army almost shaken to pieces.
Grant once more returned to his favorite project of a movement in force on Charlottesville and Gordonsville, but Sheridan continuing to oppose the scheme tenaciously, it came to nothing. His own plan, eventually carried out, was to hold the lower valley in sufficient strength, and to move against the line of the Virginia Central railway with all his cavalry. The rails of the Manassas Gap line, so often relaid, were once more and for the last time taken up from the Blue Ridge back to Augur's outposts at Bull Run, and so this will-o'-the-wisp, that had danced before the eyes of the government ever since 1861, was at last extinguished, while from Winchester to the Potomac the railway, abandoned by Johnston when he marched to Bull Run, was re-constructed to simplify the question of supplies.
(1) Strictly southeast, for the course of the turnpike toward Winchester is about northeast.
(2) The present bridge is a short distance above where the old one was.
(3) Dwight having been in arrest during the past fortnight by Emory's orders under charges growing out of criticisms and statements made in his report of the battle of the Opequon, McMillan commanded the First division, leaving his brigade to Thomas. Beal had gone home on leave of absence when the campaign seemed ended, and Davis commanded his brigade.
(4) Being actually three days past the full, the moon rose October 18-19, 1864 at 8.5 P.M., southed at 2.25 A.M., and set at 8.45 A.M. Daylight on the 19th was at 5.40 A.M.; the sun rose at 6.14, set at 5.16; twilight ended 5.50 P.M.
(5) This was probably the first sound heard that morning.
(6) According to the regimental history (p. 218) over 100 were lost out of 159 engaged; of 16 officers 13 were killed or wounded. The monument erected September 21, 1885, says 110 were killed and wounded out of 164 engaged. The revised official figures are 17 killed, 66 wounded—together 83 (including 12 officers); besides these there were 23 missing; in all, 106.
(7) The official map, accurate as it is in general, errs in some important particulars; for one, in representing Emory as retreating in a direct line toward the north from Red Hill to the Old Forge line. This would actually have carried his force through the ranks of the cavalry.
(8) "The Battle of Cedar Creek," by Col. Moses M. Granger, 122d Ohio, printed in the valuable collection of "Sketches of War History," published by the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, vol. iii., pp. 122-125. The author is likewise indebted to General Keifer for the opportunity to use in this manuscript his paper on Cedar Creek, prepared for the same series.
(9) Called Mill Creek in Sheridan's report and "Memoirs." There is a mill on the north bank.
(10) "Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan," vol. ii., pp. 75-83. The distance from Winchester to Getty's position is ten and three quarter miles.
(11) Vol. iv., pp. 524, 532. And see appendix for the valuable memorandum kindly prepared expressly for this work by General E. C. Dawes.
(12) Justly or unjustly; unjustly I think, being unable to see how any one could have done better.
CHAPTER XXXV. VICTORY AND HOME.
On the 7th of November, on the battle-field of Cedar Creek, Emory passed his corps in review before Sheridan. Sheridan spoke freely and in the highest terms of the soldierly bearing and good conduct of the officers and men. On the same day the President broke up the organization of the remnant of the various detachments, still known as the Nineteenth Corps, left under the command of Canby in Louisiana and Mississippi, and appointed Emory to the permanent command of the Nineteenth Army Corps in the field in Virginia.
The corps staff, mainly composed of the same officers who with lower rank had been serving at the headquarters of the Detachment, so called, since quitting Louisiana, included Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan S. Walker, Assistant Adjutant-General; Lieutenant-Colonel John M. Sizer, Acting-Assistant Inspector-General; Captain O. O. Potter, Chief Quartermaster; Captain H. R. Sibley, Chief Commissary of Subsistence; Captain Robert F. Wilkinson, Judge Advocate; Surgeon W. R. Brownell, Medical Director; Captain Henry C. Inwood, Provost-Marshal; Major Peter French, Captain James C. Cooley, and Captain James W. De Forest, aides-de-camp.
On the 17th of November Emory adopted a corps badge and a new system of headquarters flags. The badge was to be a fan-leaved cross with an octagonal centre; for officers, of gold suspended from the left breast by a ribbon, the color red, white, and blue for the corps headquarters, red for the First division, blue for the Second. Enlisted men were to wear on the hat or cap a similar badge of cloth, two inches square, in colors like the ribbon. The flags were to have a similar cross, of white on a blue swallowtail for corps headquarters; for divisions, a white cross on a triangular flag, the ground red for the First division, blue for the Second; the brigade flags rectangular in various combinations of red, blue, and white cross and ground, the ground divided horizontally for the brigades of the First division, and perpendicularly for those of the Second division.
On the 9th of November Sheridan drew back to Kernstown, meaning to go into winter quarters. Early eagerly followed as far as Middletown, intent on discovering what this might mean; but when, on the 12th, Torbert once more fell upon the unfortunate cavalry of Rosser, on both flanks of the Confederate position, and completely routed it, while Dudley, advancing with his brigade (1) in support of the cavalry, showed that Sheridan was ready to give battle, the Confederate commander became satisfied that Sheridan had sent no troops to Petersburg. Sheridan made all his arrangements to attack Early on the morning of the 13th, but Early did not wait for this, and when the sun rose he was again far on the way to New Market. It was during Dudley's movement that the Nineteenth Corps suffered its last loss in battle, the 29th Maine having one man wounded, by name Barton H. Ross.
When the approach of winter made active operations in the valley impossible, Lee, who had already detached Kershaw, called back to the defence of Richmond and Petersburg the whole of Early's corps, and at the same time, almost to the very day, Grant called on Sheridan for the Sixth Corps. Thus in the second week of December Wright rejoined the Army of the Potomac. Soon afterward Crook's command was divided and detached to Petersburg and West Virginia, leaving only Torbert and Emory with Sheridan in the valley. Early, his force reduced to Wharton and Rosser, went into winter quarters at Staunton, with his outposts at New Market and a signal party on watch at the station on Massanutten.
These reductions of force, together with the increasing severity of the winter, made it desirable to occupy a line nearer the base of supplies at Harper's Ferry, and, accordingly, on the 30th of December, after living for six weeks in improvised huts or "shebangs," as they were called, roughly put together of rails, stones, and any other material to be found, the Nineteenth Corps broke up its cantonment before Kernstown, called Camp Russell, and marching over the frozen ground, took up a position to cover the railway and the roads near Stephenson's. Here, at Camp Sheridan, it was intended to build regular huts, but on the last day of the year, when the men were as yet without shelter of any kind, a heavy snow storm set in, during which they suffered severely. As soon as this was over, the men fell to work in earnest, and with lumber from the quartermaster's department and timber from the forest, soon had the whole command comfortably housed.
Meanwhile Currie's brigade, which had been so long detached, engaged in the arduous and thankless duty of guarding the wagon-trains, rejoined Dwight's division. Brigadier-General James D. Fessenden having succeeded Currie in command the 5th of January, 1865, the brigade was again detached to Winchester; McMillan was at Summit Point; and Beal, as well as the headquarters of Dwight and Emory, at Stephenson's.
On the 6th of January Grover's division bade farewell to the Nineteenth Corps, and, embarking upon the cars of the Baltimore and Ohio railway, set out by way of Baltimore for some unknown destination. This presently proved to be Savannah, whither Grover was ordered to hold the ground seized by the armies under Sherman, while Sherman went on his way through the Carolinas. On the 27th of February, Sheridan broke up what remained of his Army of the Shenandoah, and placing himself at the head of his superb column of 10,000 troopers, marched to achieve Grant's longing for Lynchburg, Charlottesville, and Gordonsville, and to rejoin the Army of the Potomac.
Hancock now took command of the Middle Military Division. Of the Army of the Shenandoah there remained only the fragment of the Nineteenth Corps. On the 14th of March the men of Emory's old division passed for the last time before their favorite commander. A week later was published to the command the order of the President, dated March 20, 1865, by which the Nineteenth Army Corps was dissolved. Then bidding them a tender and touching farewell, on the 30th of March Emory quitted the cantonment at Stephenson's, and went to Cumberland to take command of the Military Department of that name.
In the early days of April the tedium of winter quarters was relieved by the good news of Grant's successes before Petersburg. It was evident that Lee's army was breaking up, and to guard against the possible escape of any fragment of it by the valley highway, on the 4th of April Hancock sent Dwight's division back to Camp Russell, but on the 7th the troops were drawn in to Winchester and encamped on the bank of Abraham's Creek. Here, at midnight on the 9th of April, the whole command turned out to hear the official announcement of Lee's surrender. The next morning, in a drenching rain, Dwight marched eighteen miles to Summit Point. On the 20th of April the division moved by railway to Washington, where it arrived on the morning of the 21st, and with colors shrouded in black for the memory of Lincoln, marched past the President's house and encamped at Tennallytown on the same ground the detachments of the corps had occupied on the night of the 13th of July the year before. Here the duty devolved upon the division of guarding all the ways out of Washington toward the northwest, from Rock Creek to the Potomac, in order to prevent the escape of such of the assassins of the President as might still be lurking within the city. This was but a part of the heavy and continuous line of sentries that stretched for thirty-five miles around the capital. A week later Dwight moved to the neighborhood of Bladensburg and encamped on the line the division had been ordered to defend on the afternoon of its arrival from New Orleans. In the first week of May heavy details were furnished to guard the prison on the grounds of the arsenal where the assassins were confined.