I doubt that General Meade's letter of instructions and Wilson's note of the same evening, warrant what General Wilson here says. It is true that the Weldon railroad near Ream's Station was not covered by our infantry, as General Humphreys informed him it would be, but Wilson is in error when he intimates that he was assured that I would look after Hampton. I do not think General Meade's instructions are susceptible of this interpretation. I received no orders requiring me to detain Hampton. On the contrary, when I arrived at the White House my instructions required me to break up the depot there, and then bring the train across the Peninsula as soon as practicable, nor were these instructions ever modified. I began the duty imposed on me on the morning of the 23d, totally in the dark as to what was expected of Wilson, though it seems, from some correspondence between Generals Grant and Meade, which I never saw till after the war, that Grant thought Wilson could rely on Hampton's absence from his field of operations throughout the expedition.
"HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, "June 21, 1864. 9:20 A. M.
"BRIGADIER-GENERAL WILSON, "Commanding Third Division Cavalry Corps.
"The major-general commanding directs that you move your command at 2 A. M. to-morrow, the 22d instant, in execution of the duty assigned you of destroying certain railroads. Despatches received from the White House state that Hampton's cavalry was before that place yesterday evening, and that General Sheridan had also reached there, hence it is desirable that you should march at the earliest moment. In passing Petersburg you will endeavor to avoid the observation of the enemy, and then move by the shortest routes to the intersection of the Petersburg and Lynchburg, and the Richmond and Danville railroads, and destroy both these roads to the greatest extent possible, continuing their destruction until driven from it by such attacks of the enemy as you can no longer resist. The destruction of those roads to such an extent that they cannot be used by the enemy in connection with Richmond during the remainder of the campaign is an important part of the plan of campaign. The latest information from Major-General Hunter represents him to be a few miles west of Lynchburg. He may endeavor to form a junction with this army; you will communicate with him if practicable, and have delivered to him verbally the contents of the following copy of a communication from Lieutenant-General Grant to the major-general commanding this army. Lieutenant Brooks, who will accompany your expedition part of the way, should be informed where General Hunter will probably be found.
"The success of your expedition will depend upon the secrecy with which it is commenced, and the celerity with which its movements are conducted; your command will, therefore, have with it the lightest supplies and smallest number of wheels consistent with the thorough execution of the duty, the supplies of the section of country you will operate in being taken into account. Upon the completion of the work assigned you, you will rejoin this army.
"The chief quartermaster was directed yesterday to supply you with the implements and material for the destruction of railroads obtained for General Sheridan.
"[Signed] "A. A. HUMPHREYS, "Major-General, Chief-of-Staff."
"HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY FORCES, Mount Sinai Church, June 21, 1864—6 P.M.
"MAJOR-GENERAL HUMPHREYS," "Chief-of-Staff. "The instructions of the major-general commanding, of this date, are received. I shall march in obedience thereto at 2 A. M. to-morrow. Before starting I would like to know if our infantry forces cover the Weldon road.
"I propose striking the Southside road first at Sutherland Station, or some point in that vicinity, tearing up the track sufficiently to delay railroad communication ten or twelve hours. At this place I shall detach a force to strike the Richmond and Danville road, by a rapid march, at the nearest point, tearing up the track at every practicable point between there and Burkeville.
"From Sutherlands I shall move the main body of my command by the Great road (breaking the railroad at every convenient point) directly to Burkeville, which, if we succeed in capturing, will afford us the opportunity of prosecuting our work with great advantage. As soon as I have made dispositions for communicating with Hunter and done all the damage possible, I shall move with all possible rapidity for Danville and Grenboro'.
"Circumstances must, however, is a great degree control our movements after leaving Burkeville.
"If Sheridan will look after Hampton, I apprehend no difficulty, and hope to be able to do the enemy great damage. The ammunition issued to my command is very defective. The implements for destroying roads have not yet arrived, but I learn from General Ingalls that they will certainly be here early to-morrow.
"[Signed] J. H. WILSON, "Brigadier-General Commanding."
The moment I received orders from General Meade to go to the relief of Wilson, I hastened with Torbert and Gregg by way of Prince George Court House and Lee's Mills to Ream's Station. Here I found the Sixth Corps, which Meade had pushed out on his left flank immediately on hearing of Wilson's mishap, but I was too late to render any material assistance, Wilson having already disappeared, followed by the enemy. However, I at once sent out parties to gather information, and soon learned that Wilson had got safe across the Nottoway at Peter's bridge and was making for the army by way of Blunt's bridge, on the Blackwater.
The benefits derived from this expedition, in the destruction of the Southside and Danville railroads, were considered by General Grant as equivalent for the losses sustained in Wilson's defeat, for the wrecking of the railroads and cars was most complete, occasioning at this, time serious embarrassment to the Confederate Government; but I doubt if all this compensated for the artillery and prisoners that fell into the hands of the enemy in the swamps of Hatcher's Run and Rowanty Creek. Wilson's retreat from the perilous situation at Ream's station was a most creditable performance—in the face of two brigades of infantry and three divisions of cavalry—and in the conduct of the whole expedition the only criticism that can hold against him is that he placed too much reliance on meeting our infantry at Ream's station, seeing that uncontrollable circumstances might, and did, prevent its being there. He ought to have marched on the 28th by Jarrett's Station to Peter's bridge, on the Nottoway, and Blunts bridge on the Blackwater, to the rear of the Army of the Potomac.
When the safety of Wilson's command was assured, I was ordered back to Light House Point, where I had gone into camp after crossing the James River to rest and recruit my command, now very much reduced in numbers by reason of casualties to both horses and men. It had been marching and fighting for fifty consecutive days, and the fatiguing service had told so fearfully on my animals that the number of dismounted men in the corps was very large. With the exception of about four hundred horses that I received at the White House, no animals were furnished to supply the deficiencies which had arisen from the wearing marches of the past two months until I got to this camp at Light House Point; here my needs were so obvious that they could no longer be neglected.
I remained at Light House Point from the 2d to the 26th of July, recuperating the cavalry, the intensely warm weather necessitating almost an entire suspension of hostilities on the part of the Army of the Potomac. Meanwhile fifteen hundred horses were sent me here, and these, with the four hundred already mentioned, were all that my troops received while I held the personal command of the Cavalry Corps, from April 6 to August 1, 1864. This was not near enough to mount the whole command, so I disposed the men who could not be supplied in a dismounted camp.
By the 26th of July our strength was pretty well restored, and as General Grant was now contemplating offensive operations for the purpose of keeping Lee's army occupied around Richmond, and also of carrying Petersburg by assault if possible, I was directed to move to the north side of the James River in conjunction with General Hancock's corps, and, if opportunity offered, to make a second expedition against the Virginia Central railroad, and again destroy the bridges on the North Anna, the Little and the South Anna rivers.
I started out on the afternoon of the 26th and crossed the Appomattox at Broadway landing. At Deep Bottom I was joined by Kautz's small division from the Army of the James, and here massed the whole command, to allow Hancock's corps to take the lead, it crossing to the north bank of the James River by the bridge below the mouth of Bailey's Creek. I moved late in the afternoon, so as not to come within the enemy's view before dark, and after night-fall Hancock's corps passed me and began crossing the pontoon-bridge about 2 o'clock in the morning.
By daylight Hancock was across, the cavalry following. Soon a portion of his corps attacked the enemy's works on the east side of Bailey's Creek, and, aided by the cavalry moving on its right, captured four pieces of artillery. This opened the way for Hancock to push out his whole corps, and as he advanced by a wheel, with his left as a pivot, the cavalry joined in the movement, pressing forward on the New Market and Central or Charles City roads.
We did not go far before we found the enemy's infantry posted across these two roads behind a strong line of intrenchments on the west bank of Bailey's Creek. His videttes in front of Ruffin's house on the New Market road were soon driven in on their main line, and the high ground before the house was immediately occupied by Torbert and Gregg, supported by Kautz's division. By the time the cavalry line was formed the Confederate General Kershaw, with his own division of infantry and those of Wilcox and Heath, advanced to attack us. Directing the most of his troops against the cavalry, which was still mounted, Kershaw drove it back some distance over the high ground. When it reached the eastern face of the ridge, however, it was quickly dismounted, and the men directed to lie down in line of battle about fifteen yards from the crest, and here the onset of the enemy was awaited. When Kershaw's men reached the crest such a severe fire was opened on them, and at such close quarters, that they could not withstand it, and gave way in disorder. They were followed across the plain by the cavalry, and lost about two hundred and fifty prisoners and two battle-flags. The counter attack against the infantry by Torbert and Gregg re-established our line and gave us the victory of Darbytown, but it also demonstrated the fact that General Lee had anticipated the movement around his left flank by transferring to the north side of the James a large portion of his infantry and W. H. F. Lee's division of cavalry.
This development rendered useless any further effort on Hancock's part or mine to carry out the plan of the expedition, for General Grant did not intend Hancock to assault the enemy's works unless there should be found in them but a very thin line of infantry which could be surprised. In such event, Hancock was to operate so that the cavalry might turn the Confederates on the Central or Charles City road, but the continually increasing force of the enemy showed this to be impracticable. The long front presented by Hancock's corps and the cavalry deceived General Lee, and he undoubtedly thought that nearly all of Grant's army had been moved to the north side of the James River; and to meet the danger he transferred the most of his own strength to the same side to confront his adversary, thinning the lines around Petersburg to reinforce those opposing us on the Central and New Market roads. This was what Grant hoped Lee would do in case the operations of Hancock and myself became impracticable, for Grant had an alternative plan for carrying Petersburg by assault in conjunction with the explosion of a mine that had been driven under the enemy's works from the front of Burnside's corps.
Now that there was no longer a chance for the cavalry to turn the enemy's left, our attention was directed to keeping up the deception of Lee, and on the afternoon of the 28th Hancock's corps withdrew to a line nearer the head of the bridge, the cavalry drawing back to a position on his right. From now on, all sorts of devices and stratagems were practiced—anything that would tend to make the Confederates believe we were being reinforced, while Hancock was preparing for a rapid return to Petersburg at the proper time. In order to delude the enemy still more after night-fall of the 28th I sent one of my divisions to the south side of the James, first covering the bridgeway with refuse hay to keep the tramp of the horses from being heard. After daylight the next morning, I marched this division back again on foot, in full view of the enemy, to create the impression of a continuous movement large bodies of infantry to the north side, while the same time Kautz was made to skirmish with the enemy on our extreme right. These various artifices had the effect intended, for by the evening of the 29th Lee had transferred all his infantry to the north bank of the James, except three divisions, and all his cavalry save one.
The morning of the 30th had been fixed upon to explode the mine and assault the enemy's works, so after dark on the evening of the 29th Hancock hastily but quietly withdrew his corps to the south side to take part in the engagement which was to succeed the explosion, and I was directed to follow Hancock. This left me on the north side of the river confronting two-thirds of Lee's army in a perilous position, where I could easily be driven into Curl's Neck and my whole command annihilated. The situation, therefore, was not a pleasant one to contemplate, but it could not be avoided. Luckily the enemy did not see fit to attack, and my anxiety was greatly relieved by getting the whole command safely across the bridge shortly after daylight, having drawn in the different brigades successively from my right. By 10 o'clock on the morning of the 30th my leading division was well over toward the left of our army in front of Petersburg, marching with the purpose to get around the enemy's right flank during the operations that were to succeed the mine explosion, but when I reached General Meade's headquarters I found that lamentable failure had attended the assault made when the enemy's works were blown up in the morning. Blunder after blunder had rendered the assault abortive, and all the opportunities opened by our expedition to the north side were irretrievably lost, so General Meade at once arrested the movement of the cavalry.
In the expedition to Deep Bottom I was under the command of Major-General Hancock, who, by seniority, was to control my corps as well as his own until the way was opened for me to get out on the Virginia Central railroad. If this opportunity was gained, I was to cut loose and damage Lee's communications with the Shenandoah Valley in such manner as best suited the conditions, but my return was not to be jeopardized nor long delayed. This necessitated that Hancock's line should extend to Bottom's bridge on the Chickahominy. The enemy's early discovery of the movement and his concentration of troops on the north side prevented Hancock from accomplishing the programme laid out for him. Its impracticability was demonstrated early on the 27th, and Hancock's soldierly instincts told him this the moment he unexpectedly discovered Kershaw blocking the New Market and Charles City roads. To Hancock the temptation to assault Kershaw's position was strong indeed, but if he carried it there would still remain the dubious problem of holding the line necessary for my safe return, so with rare judgment he desisted zealously turning to the alternative proposition—the assault on Petersburg—for more significant results. This was the only occasion during the war in which I was associated with Hancock in campaign. Up till then we had seldom met, and that was the first opportunity I had to observe his quick apprehension, his physical courage, and the soldierly personality which had long before established his high reputation.
On the 1st of August, two days after the mine explosion, I was. relieved from the personal command of the Cavalry Corps, and ordered to the Shenandoah Valley, where at a later date Torbert's and Wilson's divisions joined me. Practically, after I went to the valley, my command of the Cavalry Corps became supervisory merely. During the period of my immediate control of the corps, I tried to carry into effect, as far as possible, the views I had advanced before and during the opening of the Wilderness campaign, i.e., "that our cavalry ought to fight the enemy's cavalry, and our infantry the enemy's infantry"; for there was great danger of breaking the spirit of the corps if it was to be pitted against the enemy's compact masses of foot-troops posted behind intrenchments, and unless there was some adequate tactical or strategical advantage to be gained, such a use of it would not be justified. Immediately succeeding the battles of the Wilderness, opportunity offered to put this plan into execution to some extent, and from that time forward—from the battle of Yellow Tavern—our success was almost continuous, resulting finally, before the close of the war, in the nearly total annihilation of the enemy's cavalry.
The constant activity of the corps from May 5 till August 1 gave little opportunity for the various division and brigade commanders to record its work in detail; so there exists but meagre accounts of the numerous skirmishes and graver conflicts in which, in addition to the fights mentioned in this narrative, it engaged. A detailed history of its performances is not within the province of a work of this nature; but in review, it can be said, without trespassing on the reader's time, that the Cavalry Corps led the advance of the Army of the Potomac into the Wilderness in the memorable campaign of 1864; that on the expedition by way of Richmond to Haxall's it marked out the army's line of march to the North Anna; that it again led the advance to the Tolopotomy, and also to Cold Harbor, holding that important strategic point at great hazard; and that by the Trevillian expedition it drew away the enemy's cavalry from the south side of the Chickahominy, and thereby assisted General Grant materially in successfully marching to the James River and Petersburg. Subsequently, Wilson made his march to Staunton bridge, destroying railroads and supplies of inestimable value, and though this was neutralized by his disaster near Ream's Station, the temporary set-back there to one division was soon redeemed by victory over the Confederate infantry at the battle of Darbytown.
In the campaign we were almost always on the march, night and day, often unable to care properly for our wounded, and obliged to bury our dead where they fell; and innumerable combats attest the part the cavalry played in Grant's march from the Rapidan to Petersburg. In nearly all of these our casualties were heavy, particularly so when, as was often the case, we had to engage the Confederate infantry; but the enemy returned such a full equivalent in dead and wounded in every instance, that finally his mounted power, which from the beginning of the war had been nurtured with a wise appreciation of its value, was utterly broken.
GENERAL HUNTER'S SUCCESSFUL MARCH AND SUBSEQUENT RETREAT—GENERAL JUBAL A. EARLY THREATENS WASHINGTON—CHAMBERSBURG, PA., BURNED —SELECTED TO OPERATE AGAINST GENERAL EARLY—THE SHENANDOAH VALLEY —THE CONFEDERATE ARMY.
When the attempt to take Petersburg in conjunction with the mine explosion resulted in such a dismal failure, all the operations contemplated in connection with that project came to a standstill, and there was every prospect that the intensely hot and sultry weather would prevent further activity in the Army of the Potomac till a more propitious season. Just now, however, the conditions existing in the Shenandoah Valley and along the upper Potomac demanded the special attention of General Grant, for, notwithstanding the successful march that Major-General David Hunter had made toward Lynchburg early in the summer, what he had first gained was subsequently lost by strategical mistakes, that culminated in disaster during the retreat he was obliged to make from the vicinity of Lynchburg to the Kanawha Valley. This route of march uncovered the lower portion of the Valley of the Shenandoah, and with the exception of a small force of Union troops under General Franz Sigel posted aft Martinsburg for the purpose of covering the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, there was nothing at hand to defend the lower valley.
The different bodies of Confederates which compelled Hunter's retreat were under command of General Jubal A. Early, who had been sent to Lynchburg with Ewell's corps after the defeat of the Confederate General W. C. Jones near Staunton on the 5th of June, to take command of the Valley District. When Early had forced Hunter into the Kanawha region far enough to feel assured that Lynchburg could not again be threatened from that direction, he united to his own corps General John C. Breckenridge's infantry division and the cavalry of Generals J. H. Vaughn, John McCausland. B. T. Johnson, and J. D. Imboden, which heretofore had been operating in southwest and western Virginia under General Robert Ransom, Jr., and with the column thus formed, was ready to turn his attention to the lower Shenandoah Valley. At Early's suggestion General Lee authorized him to move north at an opportune moment, cross the upper Potomac into Maryland and threaten Washington. Indeed, General Lee had foreshadowed such a course when Early started toward Lynchburg for the purpose of relieving the pressure in front of Petersburg, but was in some doubt as to the practicability of the movement later, till persuaded to it by the representations of Early after that general had driven Hunter beyond the mountains and found little or nothing opposing except the small force of Sigel, which he thought he could readily overcome by celerity of movement.
By rapid marching Early reached Winchester on the 2d of July, and on the 4th occupied Martinsburg, driving General Sigel out of that place the same day that Hunter's troops, after their fatiguing retreat through the mountains, reached Charlestown, West Virginia. Early was thus enabled to cross the Potomac without difficulty, when, moving around Harper's Ferry, through the gaps of the South Mountain, he found his path unobstructed till he reached the Monocacy, where Ricketts's division of the Sixth Corps, and some raw troops that had been collected by General Lew Wallace, met and held the Confederates till the other reinforcements that had been ordered to the capital from Petersburg could be brought up. Wallace contested the line of the Monocacy with obstinacy, but had to retire finally toward Baltimore. The road was then open to Washington, and Early marched to the outskirts and began against the capital the demonstrations which were designed to divert the Army of the Potomac from its main purpose in front of Petersburg.
Early's audacity in thus threatening Washington had caused some concern to the officials in the city, but as the movement was looked upon by General Grant as a mere foray which could have no decisive issue, the Administration was not much disturbed till the Confederates came in close proximity. Then was repeated the alarm and consternation of two years before, fears for the safety of the capital being magnified by the confusion and discord existing among the different generals in Washington and Baltimore; and the imaginary dangers vanished only with the appearance of General Wright, who, with the Sixth Corps and one division of the Nineteenth Corps, pushed out to attack Early as soon as he could get his arriving troops in hand, but under circumstances that precluded celerity of movement; and as a consequence the Confederates escaped with little injury, retiring across the Potomac to Leesburg, unharassed save by some Union cavalry that had been sent out into Loudoun County by Hunter, who in the meantime had arrived at Harper's Ferry by the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. From Leesburg Early retired through Winchester toward Strasburg, but when the head of his column reached this place he found that he was being followed by General Crook with the combined troops of Hunter and Sigel only, Wright having returned to Washington under orders to rejoin Meade at Petersburg. This reduction of the pursuing force tempting Early to resume the offensive, he attacked Crook at Kernstown, and succeeded in administering such a check as to necessitate this general's retreat to Martinsburg, and finally to Harper's Ferry. Crook's withdrawal restored to Early the line of the upper Potomac, so, recrossing this stream, he advanced again into Maryland, and sending McCausland on to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, laid that town in ashes, leaving three thousand non-combatants without shelter or food.
When Early fell back from the vicinity of Washington toward Strasburg, General Grant believed that he would rejoin Lee, but later manoeuvres of the enemy indicated that Early had given up this idea, if he ever, entertained it, and intended to remain in the valley, since it would furnish Lee and himself with subsistence, and also afford renewed opportunities for threatening Washington. Indeed, the possession of the Valley of the Shenandoah at this time was of vast importance to Lee's army, and on every hand there were indications that the Confederate Government wished to hold it at least until after the crops could be gathered in to their depots at Lynchburg and Richmond. Its retention, besides being of great advantage in the matter of supplies, would also be a menace to the North difficult for General Grant to explain, and thereby add an element of considerable benefit to the Confederate cause; so when Early's troops again appeared at Martinsburg it was necessary for General Grant to confront them with a force strong enough to put an end to incursions north of the Potomac, which hitherto had always led to National discomfiture at some critical juncture, by turning our army in eastern Virginia from its chief purpose—the destruction of Lee and the capture of the Confederate capital.
This second irruption of Early, and his ruthless destruction of Chambersburg led to many recommendations on the part of General Grant looking to a speedy elimination of the confusion then existing among the Union forces along the upper Potomac, but for a time the authorities at Washington would approve none of his propositions. The President and Secretary Stanton seemed unwilling to adopt his suggestions, and one measure which he deemed very important—the consolidation into a single command of the four geographical districts into which, to relieve political pressure no doubt, the territory had been divided—met with serious opposition. Despite Grant's representations, he could not prevail on the Administration to approve this measure, but finally the manoeuvres of Early and the raid to Chambersburg compelled a partial compliance, though Grant had somewhat circumvented the difficulty already by deciding to appoint a commander for the forces in the field that were to operate against Early.
On the 31st of July General Grant selected me as this commander, and in obedience to his telegraphic summons I repaired to his headquarters at City Point. In the interview that followed, he detailed to me the situation of affairs on the upper Potomac, telling me that I was to command in the field the troops that were to operate against Early, but that General Hunter, who was at the head of the geographical department, would be continued in his position for the reason that the Administration was reluctant to reconstruct or consolidate the different districts. After informing me that one division of the Cavalry Corps would be sent to my new command, he went on to say that he wanted me to push the enemy as soon as this division arrived, and if Early retired up the Shenandoah Valley I was to pursue, but if he crossed the Potomac I was to put myself south of him and try to compass his destruction. The interview having ended, I returned to Hancock Station to prepare for my departure, and on the evening of August 1 I was relieved from immediate duty with the Army of the Potomac, but not from command of the cavalry as a corps organization.
I arrived at Washington on the 4th of August, and the next day received instructions from General Halleck to report to General Grant at Monocacy Junction, whither he had gone direct from City Point, in consequence of a characteristic despatch from the President indicating his disgust with the confusion, disorder, and helplessness prevailing along the upper Potomac, and intimating that Grant's presence there was necessary.
In company with the Secretary of War I called on the President before leaving Washington, and during a short conversation Mr. Lincoln candidly told me that Mr. Stanton had objected to my assignment to General Hunter's command, because he thought me too young, and that he himself had concurred with the Secretary; but now, since General Grant had "ploughed round" the difficulties of the situation by picking me out to command the "boys in the field," he felt satisfied with what had been done, and "hoped for the best." Mr. Stanton remained silent during these remarks, never once indicating whether he, too, had become reconciled to my selection or not; and although, after we left the White House, he conversed with me freely in regard to the campaign I was expected to make, seeking to impress on me the necessity for success from the political as well as from the military point of view, yet he utterly ignored the fact that he had taken any part in disapproving the recommendation of the general-in-chief.
August 6, I reported to General Grant at the Monocacy, and he there turned over to me the following instructions, which he had previously prepared for General Hunter in the expectation that general would continue to command the department:
"HEADQUARTERS IN THE FIELD, "Monocacy Bridge, Md., Aug. 5, 1864.
"GENERAL: Concentrate all your available force without delay in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry, leaving only such railroad guards and garrisons for public property as may be necessary.
"Use in this concentration the railroad, if by so doing time can be saved. From Harper's Ferry, if it is found that the enemy has moved north of the Potomac in large force, push north, following and attacking him wherever found; following him, if driven south of the Potomac, as long as it is safe to do so. If it is ascertained that the enemy has but a small force north of the Potomac, then push south the main force, detaching, under a competent commander, a sufficient force to look after the raiders and drive them to their homes. In detaching such a force, the brigade of cavalry now en route from Washington via Rockville may be taken into account.
"There are now on the way to join you three other brigades of the best of cavalry, numbering at least five thousand men and horses. These will be instructed, in the absence of further orders, to join you by the south side of the Potomac. One brigade will probably start to-morrow.
"In pushing up the Shenandoah Valley, as it is expected you will have to go first or last, it is desirable that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return. Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command. Such as cannot be consumed, destroy. It is not desirable that the buildings should be destroyed —they should, rather, be protected; but the people should be informed that so long as an army can subsist among them recurrences of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them at all hazards.
"Bear in mind, the object is to drive the enemy south; and to do this you want to keep him always in sight. Be guided in your course by the course he takes.
"Make your own arrangements for supplies of all kinds, giving regular vouchers for such as may be taken from loyal citizens in the country through which you march.
"Very respectfully, "U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General."
"Major-General D. HUNTER, "Commanding Department of West Virginia."
When I had read the letter addressed to Hunter, General Grant said I would be expected to report directly to him, as Hunter had asked that day to be wholly relieved, not from any chagrin at my assignment to the control of the active forces of his command, but because he thought that his fitness for the position he was filling was distrusted by General Halleck, and he had no wish to cause embarrassment by remaining where he could but remove me one degree from the headquarters of the army. The next day Hunter's unselfish request was complied with, and an order was issued by the President, consolidating the Middle Department, the Department of Washington, the Department of the Susquehanna, and the Department of West Virginia.
Under this order these four geographical districts constituted the Middle Military Division, and I was temporarily assigned to command it. Hunter's men had been bivouacking for some days past in the vicinity of Monocacy Junction and Frederick, but before General Grant's instructions were written out, Hunter had conformed to them by directing the concentration at Halltown, about four miles in front of Harper's Ferry, of all his force available for field service. Therefore the different bodies of troops, with the exception of Averell's cavalry, which had followed McCausland toward Moorefield after the burning of Chambersburg, were all in motion toward Halltown on August 6.
Affairs at Monocacy kept me but an hour or two, and these disposed of, I continued on to Harper's Ferry by the special train which had brought me from Washington, that point being intended as my headquarters while making preparations to advance. The enemy was occupying Martinsburg, Williamsport, and Shepherdstown at the time; sending occasional raiding parties into Maryland as far as Hagerstown. The concentration of my troops at Halltown being an indication to Early that we intended to renew the offensive, however, he immediately began counter preparations by drawing in all his detached columns from the north side of the Potomac, abandoning a contemplated raid into Maryland, which his success against Crook at Kernstown had prompted him to project, and otherwise disposing himself for defense.
At Harper's Ferry I made my headquarters in the second story of a small and very dilapidated hotel, and as soon as settled sent for Lieutenant John R. Meigs, the chief engineer officer of the command, to study with him the maps of my geographical division. It always came rather easy to me to learn the geography of a new section, and its important topographical features as well; therefore I found that, with the aid of Meigs, who was most intelligent in his profession, the region in which I was to operate would soon be well fixed in my mind. Meigs was familiar with every important road and stream, and with all points worthy of note west of the Blue Ridge, and was particularly well equipped with knowledge regarding the Shenandoah Valley, even down to the farmhouses. He imparted with great readiness what he knew of this, clearly pointing out its configuration and indicating the strongest points for Confederate defense, at the same time illustrating scientifically and forcibly the peculiar disadvantages under which the Union army had hitherto labored.
The section that received my closest attention has its northern limit along the Potomac between McCoy's ferry at the eastern base of the North Mountain, and Harper's Ferry at the western base of the Blue Ridge. The southern limit is south of Staunton, on the divide which separates the waters flowing into the Potomac from those that run to the James. The western boundary is the eastern slope of the Alleghany Mountains, the eastern, the Blue Ridge; these two distinct mountain ranges trending about southwest inclose a stretch of quite open, undulating country varying in width from the northern to the southern extremity, and dotted at frequent intervals with patches of heavy woods: At Martinsburg the valley is about sixty miles broad, and on an east and west line drawn through Winchester about forty-five, while at Strasburg it narrows down to about twenty-five. Just southeast of Strasburg, which is nearly midway between the eastern and western walls of the valley, rises an abrupt range of mountains called Massanutten, consisting of several ridges which extend southward between the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River until, losing their identity, they merge into lower but broken ground between New Market and Harrisonburg. The Massanutten ranges, with their spurs and hills, divide the Shenandoah Valley into two valleys, the one next the Blue Ridge being called the Luray, while that next the North Mountain retains the name of Shenandoah.
A broad macadamized road, leading south from Williamsport, Maryland, to Lexington, Virginia, was built at an early day to connect the interior of the latter State with the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, and along this road are situated the principal towns and villages of the Shenandoah Valley, with lateral lines of communication extending to the mountain ranges on the east and west. The roads running toward the Blue Ridge are nearly all macadamized, and the principal ones lead to the railroad system of eastern Virginia through Snicker's, Ashby's Manassas, Chester, Thornton's Swift Run, Brown's and Rock-fish gaps, tending to an ultimate centre at Richmond. These gaps are low and easy, offering little obstruction to the march of an army coming from eastern Virginia, and thus the Union troops operating west of the Blue Ridge were always subjected to the perils of a flank attack; for the Confederates could readily be brought by rail to Gordonsville and Charlottesville, from which points they could move with such celerity through the Blue Ridge that, on more than one occasion, the Shenandoah Valley had been the theatre of Confederate success, due greatly to the advantage of possessing these interior lines.
Nature had been very kind to the valley, making it rich and productive to an exceptional degree, and though for three years contending armies had been marching up and down it, the fertile soil still yielded ample subsistence for Early's men, with a large surplus for the army of Lee. The ground had long been well cleared of timber, and the rolling surface presented so few obstacles to the movement of armies that they could march over the country in any direction almost as well as on the roads, the creeks and rivers being everywhere fordable, with little or no difficulty beyond that of leveling the approaches.
I had opposing me an army largely composed of troops that had operated in this region hitherto under "Stonewall" Jackson with marked success, inflicting defeat on the Union forces almost every time the two armies had come in contact. These men were now commanded by a veteran officer of the Confederacy-General Jubal A. Early—whose past services had so signalized his ability that General Lee specially selected him to take charge of the Valley District, and, notwithstanding the misfortunes that befell him later, clung to him till the end, of the war. The Confederate army at this date was about twenty thousand strong, and consisted of Early's own corps, with Generals Rodes, Ramseur, and Gordon commanding its divisions; the infantry of Breckenridge from southwestern Virginia; three battalions of artillery; and the cavalry brigades of Vaughn, Johnson, McCausland, and Imboden. This cavalry was a short time afterward organized into a division under the command of General Lomax.
After discovering that my troops were massing in front of Harper's Ferry, Early lost not a moment in concentrating his in the vicinity of Martinsburg, in positions from which he could continue to obstruct the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and yet be enabled to retire up the valley under conditions of safety when I should begin an offensive campaign.
When I took command of the Army of the Shenandoah its infantry force comprised the Sixth Corps, one division of the Nineteenth Corps, and two divisions from West Virginia. The Sixth Corps was commanded by Major-General Horatio G. Wright; its three divisions by Brigadier-Generals David A. Russell, Geo. W. Getty, and James B. Ricketts. The single division of the Nineteenth Corps had for its immediate chief Brigadier-General William Dwight, the corps being commanded by Brigadier-General Wm. H. Emory. The troops from West Virginia were under Brigadier-General George Crook, with Colonels Joseph Thoburn and Isaac H. Duval as division commanders, and though in all not more than one fair-sized division, they had been designated, on account of the department they belonged to, the Army of West Virginia. General Torbert's division, then arriving from the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, represented the mounted arm of the service, and in the expectation that Averell would soon join me with his troopers, I assigned General Torbert as chief of cavalry, and General Wesley Merritt succeeded to the command of Torbert's division.
General Wright, the commander of the Sixth Corps, was an officer of high standing in the Corps of Engineers, and had seen much active service during the preceding three years. He commanded the Department of the Ohio throughout the very trying period of the summer and fall of 1862, and while in that position he, with other prominent officers, recommended my appointment as a brigadier-general. In 1863 he rendered valuable service at the battle of Gettysburg, following which he was assigned to the Sixth Corps, and commanded it at the capture of the Confederate works at Rappahannock Station and in the operations at Mine Run. He ranked me as a major-general of volunteers by nearly a year in date of commission, but my assignment by the President to the command of the army in the valley met with Wright's approbation, and, so far as I have ever known, he never questioned the propriety of the President's action. The Sixth Corps division commanders, Getty, Russell, and Ricketts, were all educated soldiers, whose records, beginning with the Mexican War, had already been illustrated in the war of the rebellion by distinguished service in the Army of the Potomac.
General Emory was a veteran, having graduated at the Military Academy in 1831, the year I was born. In early life he had seen much service in the Artillery, the Topographical Engineers, and the Cavalry, and in the war of the rebellion had exhibited the most soldierly characteristics at Port Hudson and on the Red River campaign. At this time he had but one division of the Nineteenth Corps present, which division was well commanded by General Dwight, a volunteer officer who had risen to the grade of brigadier-general through constant hard work. Crook was a classmate of mine—at least, we entered the Military Academy the same year, though he graduated a year ahead of me. We had known each other as boys before we entered the army, and later as men, and I placed implicit faith in his experience and qualifications as a general.
The transfer of Torbert to the position of chief of cavalry left Merritt, as I have already said, in command of the First Cavalry Division. He had been tried in the place before, and from the day he was selected as one of a number of young men to be appointed general officers, with the object of giving life to the Cavalry Corps, he filled the measure of expectation. Custer was one of these young men too, and though as yet commanding a brigade under Merritt, his gallant fight at Trevillian Station, as well as a dozen others during the summer, indicated that he would be equal to the work that was to fall to him when in a few weeks he should succeed Wilson. But to go on down the scale of rank, describing the officers who commanded in the Army of the Shenandoah, would carry me beyond all limit, so I refrain from the digression with regret that I cannot pay to each his well-earned tribute.
The force that I could take with me into the field at this time numbered about 26,000 men. Within the limits of the geographical division there was a much greater number of troops than this. Baltimore, Washington, Harper's Ferry, Hagerstown, Frederick, Cumberland, and a score of other points; besides the strong detachments that it took to keep the Baltimore and Ohio railroad open through the mountains of West Virginia, and escorts for my trains, absorbed so many men that the column which could be made available for field operations was small when compared with the showing on paper. Indeed, it was much less than it ought to have been, but for me, in the face of the opposition made by different interests involved, to detach troops from any of the points to which they had been distributed before I took charge was next to impossible.
In a few days after my arrival preparations were completed, and I was ready to make the first move for the possession of the Shenandoah Valley. For the next five weeks the operations on my part consisted almost wholly of offensive and defensive manoeuvring for certain advantages, the enemy confining himself meanwhile to measures intended to counteract my designs. Upon the advent of Torbert, Early immediately grew suspicious, and fell back twelve miles south of Martinsburg, to Bunker Hill and vicinity, where his right flank would be less exposed, but from which position he could continue to maintain the break in the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and push reconnoitring parties through Smithfield to Charlestown. These reconnoitring parties exhibited considerable boldness at times, but since they had no purpose in view save to discover whether or not we were moving, I did not contest any ground with them except about our outposts. Indeed, I desired that Early might remain at some point well to the north till I was fully prepared to throw my army on his right and rear and force a battle, and hence I abstained from disturbing him by premature activity, for I thought that if I could beat him at Winchester, or north of it, there would be far greater chances of weighty results. I therefore determined to bring my troops, if it were at all possible to do so, into such a position near that town as to oblige Early to fight. The sequel proved, however, that he was accurately informed of all my movements. To anticipate them, therefore, he began his retreat up the valley the day that I moved out from Halltown, and consequently was able to place himself south of Winchester before I could get there.
MOVING ON GENERAL EARLY—GENERAL GRANT'S LETTER OF INSTRUCTIONS —DESTROYING THE RESOURCES OF THE VALLEY—REASON FOR THE DESTRUCTION —WITHDRAWAL TO HALLTOWN—ALARM IN THE NORTH OVER THE RETROGRADE MOVEMENT—RENEWING THE ADVANCE UP THE VALLEY—GENERAL ANDERSON'S ATTEMPT TO RETURN TO PETERSBURG—STRENGTH OF THE ARMIES.
For a clear understanding of the operations which preceded the victories that resulted in almost annihilating General Early's army in the Shenandoah Valley, it is necessary to describe in considerable detail the events that took place prior to the 19th of September. My army marched from Harper's Ferry on the 10th of August, 1864, General Torbert with Merritt's division of cavalry moving in advance through Berryville, going into position near White Post. The Sixth Corps, under General Wright, moved by way of Charlestown and Summit Point to Clifton; General Emory, with Dwight's division of the Nineteenth Corps, marched along the Berryville pike through Berryville to the left of the position of the Sixth Corps at Clifton; General Crook's command, moving on the Kabletown road, passed through Kabletown to the vicinity of Berryville, and went into position on the left of Dwight's division, while Colonel Lowell, with a detached force of two small regiments of cavalry, marched to Summit Point; so that on the night of August 10 my infantry occupied a line stretching from Clifton to Berryville, with Merritt's cavalry at White Post and Lowell's at Summit Point. The enemy, as stated before, moved at the same time from Bunker Hill and vicinity, and stretched his line from where the Winchester and Potomac railroad crosses Opequon Creek to the point at which the Berryville and Winchester pike crosses the same stream, thus occupying the west bank to cover Winchester.
On the morning of the 11th the Sixth Corps was ordered to move across the country toward the junction of the Berryville-Winchester pike and the Opequon, and to take the crossing and hold it, Dwight's division being directed to move through Berryville on the White Post road for a mile, then file to the right by heads of regiments at deploying distances, and carry the crossing of Opequon Creek at a ford about three-fourths of a mile from the left of the Sixth Corps, while Crook was instructed to move out on the White Post road, a mile and a half beyond Berryville, then head to the right and secure the ford about a mile to the left of Dwight; Torbert's orders were to push Merritt's division up the Millwood pike toward Winchester, attack any force he might run against, and ascertain the movements of the Confederate army; and lastly, Lowell received instructions to close in from Summit Point on the right of the Sixth Corps.
My object in securing the fords was to further my march on Winchester from the southeast, since, from all the information gathered during the 10th, I still thought Early could be brought to a stand at that point; but in this I was mistaken, as Torbert's reconnoissance proved, for on the morning of the 11th, when Merritt had driven the Confederate cavalry, then covering the Millwood pike west of the Opequon, off toward Kernstown, he found that their infantry and artillery were retreating south, up the Valley pike.
As soon as this information was obtained Torbert moved quickly through the toll-gate on the Front Royal and Winchester road to Newtown, to strike the enemy's flank and harass him in his retreat, Lowell following up through Winchester, on the Valley pike; Crook was turned to the left and ordered to Stony Point, while Emory and Wright, marching to the left also, were directed to take post on the night of the 11th between the Millwood and Front Royal roads, within supporting distance of Crook. Merritt meeting some of the enemy's cavalry at the tollgate, drove it in the direction of Newtown till it got inside the line of Gordon's division of infantry, which had been thrown out and posted behind barricades to cover the flank of the main force in its retreat. A portion of Merritt's cavalry attacked this infantry and drove in its skirmish-line, and though not able to dislodge Gordon, Merritt held the ground gained till night-fall, when the Confederate infantry moved off under cover of darkness to Hupp's Hill, between Strasburg and Cedar Creek.
The next morning Crook marched from Stony Point to Cedar Creek, Emory followed with Dwight, and the cavalry moved to the same point by way of Newtown and the Valley pike, the Sixth Corps following the cavalry. That night Crook was in position at Cedar Creek, on the left of the Valley pike, Emory on the right of the pike, the Sixth Corps on the right of Emory, and the cavalry on the flanks. In the afternoon a heavy skirmish-line had been thrown forward to the heights on the south side of Cedar Creek, and a brisk affair with the enemy's pickets took place, the Confederates occupying with their main force the heights north of Strasburg. On the morning of the 13th my cavalry went out to reconnoitre toward Strasburg, on the middle road, about two and a half miles west of the Valley pike, and discovered that Early's infantry was at Fisher's Hill, where he had thrown up behind Tumbling Run earthworks extending clear across the narrow valley between the Massanutten and North mountains. On the left of these works he had Vaughan's, McCausland's, and Johnson's brigades of cavalry under General Lomax, who at this time relieved General Ramseur from the command of the Confederate mounted forces.
Within the past day or two I had received information that a column of the enemy was moving up from Culpeper Court House and approaching Front Royal through Chester Gap, and although the intelligence was unconfirmed, it caused me much solicitude; for there was strong probability that such a movement would be made, and any considerable force advancing through Front Royal toward Winchester could fall upon my rear and destroy my communication with Harper's Ferry, or, moving along the base of Massanutten Mountain, could attack my flank in conjunction with the force at Fisher's Hill without a possibility of my preventing it.
Neither Wilson's cavalry nor Grower's infantry had yet joined me, and the necessities, already explained, which obliged me to hold with string garrisons Winchester and other points heretofore mentioned. had so depleted my line of battle strength that I knew the enemy would outnumber me when Anderson's corps should arrive in the valley. I deemed it advisable, therefore, to act with extreme caution, so, with the exception of a cavalry reconnoissance on the 13th, I remained on the defensive, quietly awaiting developments. In the evening of that day the enemy's skirmishers withdrew to Tumbling Run, his main force remaining inactive behind the intrenchments at Fisher's Hill waiting for the arrival of Anderson.
The rumors in regard to the force advancing from Culpeper kept increasing every hour, so on the morning of the 14th I concluded to send a brigade of cavalry to Front Royal to ascertain definitely what was up. At the same time I crossed the Sixth Corps to the south side of Cedar Creek, and occupied the heights near Strasburg. That day I received from the hands of Colonel Chipman, of the Adjutant-General's Department, the following despatch, to deliver which he had ridden in great haste from Washington through Snicker's Gap, escorted by a regiment of cavalry:
"CITY POINT, August 12, 1864—9 A. M.
"Inform General Sheridan that it is now certain two (2) divisions of infantry have gone to Early, and some cavalry and twenty (20) pieces of artillery. This movement commenced last Saturday night. He must be cautious, and act now on the defensive until movements here force them to detach to send this way. Early's force, with this increase, cannot exceed forty thousand men, but this is too much for General Sheridan to attack. Send General Sheridan the remaining brigade of the Nineteenth Corps.
"I have ordered to Washington all the one-hundred-day men. Their time will soon be out, but for the present they will do to serve in the defenses.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
The despatch explained the movement from Culpeper, and on the morning of the 15th Merritt's two remaining brigades were sent to Front Royal to oppose Anderson, and the Sixth Corps withdrawn to the north side of Cedar Creek, where it would be in a position enabling me either to confront Anderson or to act defensively, as desired by General Grant.
To meet the requirements of his instructions I examined the map of the valley for a defensive line—a position where a smaller number of troops could hold a larger number—for this information led me to suppose that Early's force would greatly exceed mine when Anderson's two divisions of infantry and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry had joined him. I could see but one such position, and that was at Halltown, in front of Harper's Ferry. Subsequent experience convinced me that there was no other really defensive line in the Shenandoah Valley, for at almost any other point the open country and its peculiar topography invites rather than forbids flanking operations.
This retrograde movement would also enable me to strengthen my command by Grower's division of the Nineteenth Corps and Wilson's cavalry, both of which divisions were marching from Washington by way of Snicker's Gap.
After fully considering the matter, I determined to move back to Halltown, carrying out, as I retired, my instructions to destroy all the forage and subsistence the country afforded. So Emory was ordered to retire to Winchester on the night of the 15th, and Wright and Crook to follow through Winchester to Clifton the next night.
For the cavalry, in this move to the rear, I gave the following instructions:
"....In pushing up the Shenandoah Valley, as it is expected you will have to go first or last, it is desirable that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return. Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command. Such as cannot be consumed, destroy. It is not desirable that buildings should be destroyed—they should, rather, be protected; but the people should be informed that so long as an army can subsist among them, recurrences of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them at all hazards...." [Grant's letter of instructions.]
"HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION, "Cedar Creek, Va., August 16, 1864.
"GENERAL: In compliance with instructions of the Lieutenant-General commanding, you will make the necessary arrangements and give the necessary orders for the destruction of the wheat and hay south of a line from Millwood to Winchester and Petticoat Gap. You will seize all mules, horses, and cattle that may be useful to our army. Loyal citizens can bring in their claims against the Government for this necessary destruction. No houses will be burned, and officers in charge of this delicate but necessary duty must inform the people that the object is to make this valley untenable for the raiding parties of the rebel army.
"P. H. SHERIDAN, "Major-General Commanding.
"BRIGADIER-GENERAL A. T. A. TORBERT, "Chief of Cavalry, Middle Military Division."
During his visit to General Hunter at the Monocacy, General Grant had not only decided to retain in the Shenandoah Valley a large force sufficient to defeat Early's army or drive it back to Lee, but he had furthermore determined to make that sections by the destruction of its supplies, untenable for continued occupancy by the Confederates. This would cut off one of Lee's main-stays in the way of subsistence, and at the same time diminish the number of recruits and conscripts he received; the valley district while under his control not only supplying Lee with an abundance of food, but also furnishing him many men for his regular and irregular forces. Grant's instructions to destroy the valley began with the letter of August 5 to Hunter, which was turned over to me, and this was followed at intervals by more specific directions, all showing the earnestness of his purpose.
"CITY POINT, Va., Aug. 16—3:30 P. M., 1864. "MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Winchester, Va.:
"If you can possibly spare a division of cavalry, send them through Loudoun County to destroy and carry off the crops, animals, negroes, and all men under fifty years of age capable of bearing arms. In this way you will get many of Mosby's men. All male citizens under fifty can fairly be held as prisoners of war, not as citizen prisoners. If not already soldiers, they will be made so the moment the rebel army gets hold of them.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
"HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES, "CITY POINT, Aug. 21, 1864.
"MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Charlestown, Va.:
"In stripping Loudoun County of supplies, etc., impress from all loyal persons so that they may receive pay for what is taken from them. I am informed by the Assistant Secretary of War that Loudoun County has a large population of Quakers, who are all favorably disposed to the Union. These people may be exempted from arrest.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
"HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES "CITY POINT, Va., Aug. 26,2:30 P. M. 1864.
"MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Halltown, Va.:
"Telegraphed you that I had good reason for believing that Fitz Lee had been ordered back here. I now think it likely that all troops will be ordered back from the valley except what they believe to be the minimum number to detain you. My reason for supposing this is based upon the fact that yielding up the Weldon road seems to be a blow to the enemy he cannot stand. I think I do not overstate the loss of the enemy in the last two weeks at 10,000 killed and wounded. We have lost heavily, mostly in captured when the enemy gained temporary advantages. Watch closely, and if you find this theory correct, push with all vigor. Give the enemy no rest, and if it is possible to follow to the Virginia Central road, follow that far. Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock of all descriptions and negroes, so as to prevent further planting. If the war is to last another year we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
"HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES, "CITY POINT, Va., Sept. 4,—10 A. M.—1864.
"MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Charlestown, Va.:
"In cleaning out the arms-bearing community of Loudoun County and the subsistence for armies, exercise your own judgment as to who should be exempt from arrest, and as to who should receive pay for their stock, grain, etc. It is our interest that that county should not be capable of subsisting a hostile army, and at the same time we want to inflict as little hardship upon Union men as possible.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
"CITY POINT, Va., Nov. 9, 1864. "MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Cedar Creek, Va.:
"Do you not think it advisable to notify all citizens living east of the Blue Ridge to move out north of the Potomac all their stock, grain, and provisions of every description? There is no doubt about the necessity of clearing out that country so that it will not support Mosby's gang. And the question is whether it is not better that the people should save what they can. So long as the war lasts they must be prevented from raising another crop, both there and as high up the valley as we can control.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
He had rightly concluded that it was time to bring the war home to a people engaged in raising crops from a prolific soil to feed the country's enemies, and devoting to the Confederacy its best youth. I endorsed the programme in all its parts, for the stores of meat and grain that the valley provided, and the men it furnished for Lee's depleted regiments, were the strongest auxiliaries he possessed in the whole insurgent section. In war a territory like this is a factor of great importance, and whichever adversary controls it permanently reaps all the advantages of its prosperity. Hence, as I have said, I endorsed Grant's programme, for I do not hold war to mean simply that lines of men shall engage each other in battle, and material interests be ignored. This is but a duel, in which one combatant seeks the other's life; war means much more, and is far worse than this. Those who rest at home in peace and plenty see but little of the horrors attending such a duel, and even grow indifferent to them as the struggle goes on, contenting themselves with encouraging all who are able-bodied to enlist in the cause, to fill up the shattered ranks as death thins them. It is another matter, however, when deprivation and suffering are brought to their own doors. Then the case appears much graver, for the loss of property weighs heavy with the most of mankind; heavier often, than the sacrifices made on the field of battle. Death is popularly considered the maximum of punishment in war, but it is not; reduction to poverty brings prayers for peace more surely and more quickly than does the destruction of human life, as the selfishness of man has demonstrated in more than one great conflict.
In the afternoon of the 16th I started back to Winchester, whence I could better supervise our regressive march. As I was passing through Newtown, I heard cannonading from the direction of Front Royal, and on reaching Winchester, Merritt's couriers brought me word that he had been attacked at the crossing of the Shenandoah by Kershaw's division of Anderson's corps and two brigades of Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, but that the attack had been handsomely repulsed, with a capture of two battle-flags and three hundred prisoners. This was an absolute confirmation of the despatch from Grant; and I was now more than satisfied with the wisdom of my withdrawal.
At daylight of the 17th Emory moved from Winchester to Berryville, and the same morning Crook and Wright reached Winchester, having started from Cedar Creek the day before. From Winchester, Crook and Wright resumed their march toward Clifton, Wright, who had the rear guard, getting that day as far as the Berryville crossing of the Opequon, where he was ordered to remain, while Crook went ahead till he reached the vicinity of Berryville. On the afternoon of the 17th Lowell with his two regiments of troopers came into Winchester, where he was joined by Wilson's mounted division, which had come by a rapid march from Snicker's ferry. In the mean time Merritt, after his handsome engagement with Kershaw near Front Royal, had been ordered back to the neighborhood of White Post, so that my cavalry outposts now extended from this last point around to the west of Winchester.
During all these operations the enemy had a signal-station on Three Top Mountain, almost overhanging Strasburg, from which every movement made by our troops could be plainly seen; therefore, early on the morning of the 17th he became aware of the fact that we were retiring down the valley, and at once made after us, and about sundown drove Torbert out of Winchester, he having been left there-with Wilson and Lowell, and the Jersey brigade of the Sixth Corps, to develop the character of the enemy's pursuit. After a severe skirmish Wilson and Lowell fell back to Summit Point, and the Jersey brigade joined its corps at the crossing of the Opequon. This affair demonstrated that Early's whole army had followed us from Fisher's Hill, in concert with Anderson and Fitzhugh Lee from Front Royal, and the two columns joined near Winchester the morning of the 18th.
That day I moved the Sixth Corps by way of Clifton to Flowing Spring, two and a half miles west of Charlestown, on the Smithfield pike; and Emory, with Dwight's and Grower's divisions (Grower's having joined that morning from Washington), to a position about the same distance south of Charlestown, on the Berryville pike. Following these movements, Merritt fell back to Berryville, covering the Berryville pike crossing of the Opequon, and Wilson was stationed at Summit Point, whence he held a line along the Opequon as far north as the bridge at Smithfield. Crook continued to hold on near Clifton until the next day, and was then moved into place on the left of Emory.
This line was practically maintained till the 21st, when the enemy, throwing a heavy force across the Opequon by the bridge at Smithfield, drove in my cavalry pickets to Summit Point, and followed up with a rapid advance against the position of the Sixth Corps near Flowing Spring. A sharp and obstinate skirmish with a heavy picket-line of the Sixth Corps grew out of this manoeuvre, and resulted very much in our favor, but the quick withdrawal of the Confederates left no opportunity for a general engagement. It seems that General Early thought I had taken position near Summit Point, and that by moving rapidly around through Smithfield he could fall upon my rear in concert with an attack in front by Anderson, but the warm reception given him disclosed his error, for he soon discovered that my line lay in front of Charlestown instead of where he supposed.
In the manoeuvre Merritt had been attacked in front of Berryville and Wilson at Summit Point, the former by cavalry and the latter by Anderson's infantry. The exposed positions of Merritt and Wilson necessitated their withdrawal if I was to continue to act on the defensive; so, after the army had moved back to Halltown the preceding night, without loss or inconvenience, I called them in and posted them on the right of the infantry.
My retrograde move from Strasburg to Halltown caused considerable alarm in the North, as the public was ignorant of the reasons for it; and in the excited state of mind then prevailing, it was generally expected that the reinforced Confederate army would again cross the Potomac, ravage Maryland and Pennsylvania, and possibly capture Washington. Mutterings of dissatisfaction reached me from many sources, and loud calls were made for my removal, but I felt confident that my course would be justified when the true situation was understood, for I knew that I was complying with my instructions. Therefore I paid small heed to the adverse criticisms pouring down from the North almost every day, being fully convinced that the best course was to bide my time, and wait till I could get the enemy into a position from which he could not escape without such serious misfortune as to have some bearing on the general result of the war. Indeed, at this time I was hoping that my adversary would renew the boldness he had exhibited the early part of the month, and strike for the north side of the Potomac, and wrote to General Grant on the 20th of August that I had purposely left everything in that direction open to the enemy.
On the 22d the Confederates moved to Charlestown and pushed well up to my position at Halltown. Here for the next three days they skirmished with my videttes and infantry pickets, Emory and Cook receiving the main attention; but finding that they could make no impression, and judging it to be an auspicious time to intensify the scare in the North, on the 25th of August Early despatched Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry to Williamsport, and moved all the rest of his army but Anderson's infantry and McCausland's cavalry to Kerneysville. This same day there was sharp picket firing along the whole front of my infantry line, arising, as afterward ascertained, from a heavy demonstration by Anderson. During this firing I sent Torbert, with Merritt's and Wilson's divisions, to Kerrteysville, whence he was to proceed toward Leetown and learn what had become of Fitz. Lee.
About a mile from Leetown Torbert met a small force of Confederate cavalry, and soon after encountering it, stumbled on Breckenridge's corps of infantry on the march, apparently heading for Shepherdstown. The surprise was mutual, for Torbert expected to meet only the enemy's cavalry, while the Confederate infantry column was anticipating an unobstructed march to the Potomac. Torbert attacked with such vigor as at first to double up the head of Breckenridge's corps and throw it into confusion, but when the Confederates realized that they were confronted only by cavalry, Early brought up the whole of the four infantry divisions engaged in his manoeuvre, and in a sharp attack pushed Torbert rapidly back.
All the advantages which Torbert had gained by surprising the enemy were nullified by this counter-attack, and he was obliged to withdraw Wilson's division toward my right, to the neighborhood of Duffield's Station, Merritt drawing back to the same point by way of the Shepherdstown ford. Custer's brigade becoming isolated after the fight while assisting the rear guard, was also obliged to retire, which it did to Shepherdstown and there halted, picketing the river to Antietam ford.
When Torbert reported to me the nature of his encounter, and that a part of Early's infantry was marching to the north, while Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry had gone toward Martinsburg, I thought that the Confederate general meditated crossing his cavalry into Maryland, so I sent Wilson by way of Harper's Ferry to watch his movements from Boonesboro', and at the same time directed Averell, who had reported from West Virginia some days before, to take post at Williamsport and hold the crossing there until he was driven away. I also thought it possible that Early might cross the Potomac with his whole army, but the doubts of a movement like this outweighed the probabilities favoring it. Nevertheless, to meet such a contingency I arranged to throw my army on his rear should the occasion arise, and deeming my position at Halltown the most advantageous in which to await developments, my infantry was retained there.
If General Early had ever intended to cross the Potomac, Torbert's discovery of his manoeuvre put an end to his scheme of invasion, for he well knew that and success he might derive from such a course would depend on his moving with celerity, and keeping me in ignorance of his march till it should be well under way; so he settled all the present uncertainties by retiring with all his troops about Kerneysville to his old position at Bunker Hill behind the Opequon, and on the night of the 26th silently withdrew Anderson and McCausland from my front at Halltown to Stephenson's depot.
By the 27th all of Early's infantry was in position at Brucetown and Bunker Hill, his cavalry holding the outposts of Leetown and Smithfield, and on that day Merritt's division attacked the enemy's horse at Leetown, and pressed it back through Smithfield to the west side of the Opequon. This reconnoissance determined definitely that Early had abandoned the projected movement into Maryland, if he ever seriously contemplated it; and I marched my infantry out from Halltown to the front of Charlestown, with the intention of occupying a line between Clifton and Berryville the moment matters should so shape themselves that I could do so with advantage. The night of the 28th Wilson joined me near Charlestown from his points of observation in Maryland, and the next day Averell crossed the Potomac at Williamsport and advanced to Martinsburg.
Merritt's possession of Smithfield bridge made Early somewhat uneasy, since it afforded opportunity for interposing a column between his right and left flanks, so he concluded to retake the crossing, and, to this end, on the 29th advanced two divisions of infantry. A severe fight followed, and Merritt was forced to retire, being driven through the village toward Charlestown with considerable loss. As Merritt was nearing my infantry line, I ordered. Ricketts's division of the Sixth Corps to his relief, and this in a few minutes turned the tide, the Smithfield crossing of the Opequon being regained, and afterward held by Lowell's brigade, supported by Ricketts. The next morning I moved Torbert, with Wilson and Merritt, to Berryville, and succeeding their occupation of that point there occurred along my whole line a lull, which lasted until the 3d of September, being undisturbed except by a combat near Bunker Hill between Averell's cavalry and a part of McCausland's, supported by Rodes's division of infantry, in which affair the Confederates were defeated with the loss of about fifty prisoners and considerable property in the shape of wagons and beef-cattle.
Meanwhile Torbert's movement to Berryville had alarmed Early, and as a counter move on the 2d of September he marched with the bulk of his army to Summit Point, but while reconnoitring in that region on the 3d he learned of the havoc that Averell was creating in his rear, and this compelled him to recross to the west side of the Opequon and mass his troops in the vicinity of Stephenson's depot, whence he could extend down to Bunker Hill, continue to threaten the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and at the same time cover Winchester.
The same day I was moving my infantry to take up the Clifton-Berryville line, and that afternoon Wright went into position at Clifton, Crook occupied Berryville, and Emory's corps came in between them, forming almost a continuous line. Torbert had moved to White Post meanwhile, with directions to reconnoitre as far south as the Front Royal Pike.
My infantry had just got fairly into this position about an hour before sunset, when along Crook's front a combat took place that at the time caused me to believe it was Early's purpose to throw a column between Crook and Torbert, with the intention of isolating the latter; but the fight really arose from the attempt of General Anderson to return to Petersburg with Kershaw's division in response to loud calls from General Lee. Anderson started south on the 3d of September, and possibly this explains Early's reconnoissance that day to Summit Point as a covering movement, but his rapid withdrawal left him in ignorance of my advance, and Anderson marched on heedlessly toward Berryville, expecting to cross the Blue Ridge through Ashby's Gap. At Berryville however, he blundered into Crook's lines about sunset, and a bitter little fight ensued, in which the Confederates got so much the worst of it that they withdrew toward Winchester. When General Early received word of this encounter he hurried to Anderson's assistance with three divisions, but soon perceiving what was hitherto unknown to him, that my whole army was on a new line, he decided, after some slight skirmishing, that Anderson must remain at Winchester until a favorable opportunity offered for him to rejoin Lee by another route.
Succeeding the discomfiture of Anderson, some minor operations took place on the part of, Averell on the right and McIntosh's brigade of Wilson's division on the left, but from that time until the 19th of September no engagement of much importance occurred. The line from Clifton to Berryville was occupied by the Sixth Corps and Grower's and Dwight's divisions of the Nineteenth, Crook being transferred to Summit Point, whence I could use him to protect my right flank and my communication with Harper's Ferry, while the cavalry threatened the enemy's right flank and line of retreat up the valley.
The difference of strength between the two armies at this date was considerably in my favor, but the conditions attending my situation in a hostile region necessitated so much detached service to protect trains, and to secure Maryland and Pennsylvania from raids, that my excess in numbers was almost canceled by these incidental demands that could not be avoided, and although I knew that I was strong, yet, in consequence of the injunctions of General Grant, I deemed it necessary to be very cautious; and the fact that the Presidential election was impending made me doubly so, the authorities at Washington having impressed upon me that the defeat of my army might be followed by the overthrow of the party in power, which event, it was believed, would at least retard the progress of the war, if, indeed, it did not lead to the complete abandonment of all coercive measures. Under circumstances such as these I could not afford to risk a disaster, to say nothing of the intense disinclination every soldier has for such results; so, notwithstanding my superior strength, I determined to take all the time necessary to equip myself with the fullest information, and then seize an opportunity under such conditions that I could not well fail of success.
PERSONAL MEMOIRES OF P. H. SHERIDAN, VOLUME 2.
By Philip Henry Sheridan
ORGANIZING SCOUTS—MISS REBECCA WRIGHT—IMPORTANT INFORMATION—DECIDE TO MOVE ON NEWTOWN—MEETING GENERAL GRANT—ORGANIZATION OF THE UNION ARMY—OPENING OF THE BATTLE OF THE OPEQUON—DEATH OF GENERAL RUSSELL —A TURNING MOVEMENT—A SUCCESSFUL CAVALRY CHARGE—VICTORY—THREE LOYAL GIRLS—APPOINTED A BRIGADIER-GENERAL IN THE REGULAR ARMY —REMARKS ON THE BATTLE.
While occupying the ground between Clifton and Berryville, referred to in the last chapter of the preceding volume, I felt the need of an efficient body of scouts to collect information regarding the enemy, for the defective intelligence-establishment with which I started out from Harper's Ferry early in August had not proved satisfactory. I therefore began to organize my scouts on a system which I hoped would give better results than bad the method hitherto pursued in the department, which was to employ on this service doubtful citizens and Confederate deserters. If these should turn out untrustworthy, the mischief they might do us gave me grave apprehension, and I finally concluded that those of our own soldiers who should volunteer for the delicate and hazardous duty would be the most valuable material, and decided that they should have a battalion organization and be commanded by an officer, Major H. K. Young, of the First Rhode Island Infantry. These men were disguised in Confederate uniforms whenever necessary, were paid from the Secret-Service Fund in proportion to the value of the intelligence they furnished, which often stood us in good stead in checking the forays of Gilmore, Mosby, and other irregulars. Beneficial results came from the plan in many other ways too, and particularly so when in a few days two of my scouts put me in the way of getting news conveyed from Winchester. They had learned that just outside of my lines, near Millwood, there was living an old colored man, who had a permit from the Confederate commander to go into Winchester and return three times a week, for the purpose of selling vegetables to the inhabitants. The scouts had sounded this man, and, finding him both loyal and shrewd, suggested that he might be made useful to us within the enemy's lines; and the proposal struck me as feasible, provided there could be found in Winchester some reliable person who would be willing to co-operate and correspond with me. I asked General Crook, who was acquainted with many of the Union people of Winchester, if he knew of such a person, and he recommended a Miss Rebecca Wright, a young lady whom he had met there before the battle of Kernstown, who, he said, was a member of the Society of Friends and the teacher of a small private school. He knew she was faithful and loyal to the Government, and thought she might be willing to render us assistance, but he could not be certain of this, for on account of her well known loyalty she was under constant surveillance. I hesitated at first, but finally deciding to try it, despatched the two scouts to the old negro's cabin, and they brought him to my headquarters late that night. I was soon convinced of the negro's fidelity, and asking him if he was acquainted with Miss Rebecca Wright, of Winchester, he replied that he knew her well. There upon I told him what I wished to do, and after a little persuasion he agreed to carry a letter to her on his next marketing trip. My message was prepared by writing it on tissue paper, which was then compressed into a small pellet, and protected by wrapping it in tin-foil so that it could be safely carried in the man's mouth. The probability, of his being searched when he came to the Confederate picketline was not remote, and in such event he was to swallow the pellet. The letter appealed to Miss Wright's loyalty and patriotism, and requested her to furnish me with information regarding the strength and condition of Early's army. The night before the negro started one of the scouts placed the odd-looking communication in his hands, with renewed injunctions as to secrecy and promptitude. Early the next morning it was delivered to Miss Wright, with an intimation that a letter of importance was enclosed in the tin-foil, the negro telling her at the same time that she might expect him to call for a message in reply before his return home. At first Miss Wright began to open the pellet nervously, but when told to be careful, and to preserve the foil as a wrapping for her answer, she proceeded slowly and carefully, and when the note appeared intact the messenger retired, remarking again that in the evening he would come for an answer.
On reading my communication Miss Wright was much startled by the perils it involved, and hesitatingly consulted her mother, but her devoted loyalty soon silenced every other consideration, and the brave girl resolved to comply with my request, notwithstanding it might jeopardize her life. The evening before a convalescent Confederate officer had visited her mother's house, and in conversation about the war had disclosed the fact that Kershaw's division of infantry and Cutshaw's battalion of artillery had started to rejoin General Lee. At the time Miss Wright heard this she attached little if any importance to it, but now she perceived the value of the intelligence, and, as her first venture, determined to send it to me at once, which she did with a promise that in the future she would with great pleasure continue to transmit information by the negro messenger.
"SEPTEMBER 15, 1864.
"I learn from Major-General Crook that you are a loyal lady, and still love the old flag. Can you inform me of the position of Early's forces, the number of divisions in his army, and the strength of any or all of them, and his probable or reported intentions? Have any more troops arrived from Richmond, or are any more coming, or reported to be coming?
"You can trust the bearer."
"I am, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
"P. H. SHERIDAN, Major-General Commanding."
"SEPTEMBER 16, 1864.
"I have no communication whatever with the rebels, but will tell you what I know. The division of General Kershaw, and Cutshaw's artillery, twelve guns and men, General Anderson commanding, have been sent away, and no more are expected, as they cannot be spared from Richmond. I do not know how the troops are situated, but the force is much smaller than represented. I will take pleasure hereafter in learning all I can of their strength and position, and the bearer may call again.
"Very respectfully yours," ............
Miss Wright's answer proved of more value to me than she anticipated, for it not only quieted the conflicting reports concerning Anderson's corps, but was most important in showing positively that Kershaw was gone, and this circumstance led, three days later, to the battle of the Opequon, or Winchester as it has been unofficially called. Word to the effect that some of Early's troops were under orders to return to Petersburg, and would start back at the first favorable opportunity, had been communicated to me already from many sources, but we had not been able to ascertain the date for their departure. Now that they had actually started, I decided to wait before offering battle until Kershaw had gone so far as to preclude his return, feeling confident that my prudence would be justified by the improved chances of victory; and then, besides, Mr. Stanton kept reminding me that positive success was necessary to counteract the political dissatisfaction existing in some of the Northern States. This course was advised and approved by General Grant, but even with his powerful backing it was difficult to resist the persistent pressure of those whose judgment, warped by their interests in the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, was often confused and misled by stories of scouts (sent out from Washington), averring that Kershaw and Fitzhugh Lee had returned to Petersburg, Breckenridge to southwestern Virginia, and at one time even maintaining that Early's whole army was east of the Blue Ridge, and its commander himself at Gordonsville.
During the inactivity prevailing in my army for the ten days preceding Miss Wright's communication the infantry was quiet, with the exception of Getty's division, which made a reconnoissance to the Opequon, and developed a heavy force of the enemy at Edwards's Corners. The cavalry, however, was employed a good deal in this interval skirmishing heavily at times to maintain a space about six miles in width between the hostile lines, for I wished to control this ground so that when I was released from the instructions of August 12, I could move my men into position for attack without the knowledge of Early. The most noteworthy of these mounted encounters was that of McIntosh's brigade, which captured the Eighth South Carolina at Abraham's Creek September 13.
It was the evening of the 16th of September that I received from Miss Wright the positive information that Kershaw was in march toward Front Royal on his way by Chester Gap to Richmond. Concluding that this was my opportunity, I at once resolved to throw my whole force into Newtown the next day, but a despatch from General Grant directing me to meet him at Charlestown, whither he was coming to consult with me, caused me to defer action until after I should see him. In our resulting interview at Charlestown, I went over the situation very thoroughly, and pointed out with so much confidence the chances of a complete victory should I throw my army across the Valley pike near Newtown that he fell in with the plan at once, authorized me to resume the offensive, and to attack Early as soon as I deemed it most propitious to do so; and although before leaving City Point he had outlined certain operations for my army, yet he neither discussed nor disclosed his plans, my knowledge of the situation striking him as being so much more accurate than his own.
[Extract from "Grant's Memoirs," page 328.]
"....Before starting I had drawn up a plan of campaign for Sheridan, which I had brought with me; but seeing that he was so clear and so positive in his views, and so confident of success, I said nothing about this, and did not take it out of my pocket...."
The interview over, I returned to my army to arrange for its movement toward Newtown, but while busy with these preparations, a report came to me from General Averell which showed that Early was moving with two divisions of infantry toward Martinsburg. This considerably altered the state of affairs, and I now decided to change my plan and attack at once the two divisions remaining about Winchester and Stephenson's depot, and later, the two sent to Martinsburg; the disjointed state of the enemy giving me an opportunity to take him in detail, unless the Martinsburg column should be returned by forced marches.