Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 23, 1864: The Battle of Westport

Major General Samuel R. Curtis, U.S. Army
On this day 150 years ago, a Union Army under Major General Samuel R. Curtis defeated a Confederate Army under Sterling Price in the Battle of Westport, in what is now part of Kansas City. The Union repulse of Price's army was so decisive that the battle was referred to in its time as "The Gettysburg of the West." After their defeat, Missouri was solidly under the control of the Union and the Confederacy made no more important offensive actions in this area for the remainder of the war. The following is an extract from the official report of Major General Samuel R. Curtis, U.S. Army:

Night closing the battle of Big Blue on the 22nd, I ordered my troops under cover of the darkness to concentrate within the lines of fieldworks that inclosed Kansas City, Mo., only a small force remaining in front of Westport near the long line of camp-fires that marked the position and vastly superior numbers of the rebel forces. The citizens and soldiers had so improved the natural strength of Kansas City as to make this position almost impregnable, and being well furnished with food, forage, and ammunition, I replenished exhausted stores and secured my weary soldiers a few hours' repose, which, after so many days of marching, watching, and fighting, we all very much needed. But in view of to-morrow my officers were put to a new test of their powers of endurance. The enemy had halted south of Westport, and some five or six miles south of Kansas City, where he could either turn my new right flank, which rested on Turkey Creek, or attack in front at his leisure. I therefore determined to renew the offensive on his own grounds with my main force, leaving heavy artillery, unmounted militia, and the home guard of the city to hold the line of intrenchments, to fall back upon of occasion required. A dispatch from Major Frank Eno, Saint Louis, October 22, informed me that General Rosecrans was at 1.30 p. m. to-day fifteen miles from Lexington, but a scout from his cavalry advance reported General Pleasonton at Independence, only nine miles from Kansas City. Militia also came in to re-enforce me and compensate for the considerable losses of the day. I directed Generals Blunt and Deitzler to personally supervise preparations and have the troops to commence moving at 3 o'clock in the morning, and all of my staff not then engaged locating the troops for the night were also directed to assist in notifying and replenishing the militia for the proposed attack of the enemy at daylight the next morning. A verbal message was also sent to General Pleasonton giving him information of my purpose. General Pomeroy volunteered to locate troops at the crossing of the Kansas River, so as to apprise me of any movement around my right flank. The officers all heartily united and labored most of the night in efforts to have everything ready for a united, powerful attack on the rebel camp at daylight.

Our regular volunteers, with the artillery, moved early in the morning of the 23rd, and were deployed into line of battle two miles south of Westport, on Brush Creek, which is shown on the map accompanying this report. This stream lies east and west, and is skirted by a dense forest some two miles wide. This advance of General Blunt was soon attacked by overwhelming odds, and gradually fell back. The militia came up and deployed under Colonel Blair on the right, but not sufficient to maintain the advanced position. Our troops fought desperately and sometimes repulsed the enemy, but gradually fell back to the north side of Brush Creek. After directing General Deitzler and colonel Coates (who commanded the Missouri militia) to put the whole male population about Kansas City on duty in the trenches of that place, I pressed forward all the mounted forces and joined General Blunt at Westport at 7.30, where I found our forces as last mentioned. The enemy had advanced his skirmishers so as to occupy the timber south of Brush Creek, while our troops occupied the timber on the north side. As the militia were coming forward, I ordered a reconnaissance to the left and front, also sending Major Curtis in that direction with orders to find and report matters to General Pleasonton, and directed also the farther extension of our lines to the right. From the roof of the hotel where I found General Blunt we could see beyond the timber of Brush Creek the rebel forces deployed in endless lines on the open prairie. McLain's battery was on the brow of the north bank of Brush Creek and near the road, Dodge's (Ninth Wisconsin) battery to his right. We also had about twenty other pieces of artillery, mostly mountain howitzers, with cavalry, taking position as their supporting squadrons came into line. Meantime continued firing was kept up by skirmishers and artillery on both sides, with but little damage to either. After taking the positions named on opposite sides of Brush Creek, about 11 o'clock I went myself to the right of our lines, and led the militia forward as skirmishers. I tried to get through the timber with Dodge's battery and two little howitzers of my escort, but the roads were not favorable and I left the farther movement of the right to Colonel Blair, who was soon after joined by General Deitzler. I was directed by an old man, a Missouri patriot of seventy-five years, through a narrow defile to Brush Creek with Dodge's battery and other forces. With trembling, sinking steps the old man directed us to a position where we immediately began to demonstrate against the enemy that occupied the inclined plain and wooded heights on the south of Brush. The weary veteran refused to ride, but sunk down with delight and exhaustion when he saw the success of our guns. Like many other brave Missourians of that day he saw the rebellion vanishing before him and his home and country free. Moving farther down Brush Creek to the left I found Colonels Ford and Jennison skirmishing fiercely and evidently successfully pressing the enemy back. Thinking it a favorable time I immediately ordered a cavalry charge, one by the main road, and another by a road leading to the left and front, supported by advancing skirmishers and second lines. At the same time I directed General Blunt to advance in support with McLain's battery, and other artillery. The cavalry charges led by Lieutenant-Colonel Hoyt and Captain Thompson dashed forward with a terrible shout, carrying the heights and stone fences, which were immediately occupied by our main forces, and I soon saw our line, extending far away on my right, emerging from the dark forests of Brush Creek.

The enemy was soon overpowered, and after a violent and desperate struggle fell back to another elevation on the broad prairie and operated their artillery and cavalry to their utmost ability in a vain attempt to check our general movement. Our militia continued to come swarming out of the forest, displaying a length and strength of numbers that surprised me. Their movement was steady, orderly, and gallant. Every piece of artillery, especially the little howitzers, was in active fire, showing artillery enough to represent an army of 50,000. This display of force, rather than effective fire, seemed to cause the enemy to increase his distance before us, while we steadily advanced all arms over a beautiful prairie, where both armies were in full view. It was at this time, about 11.30 a. m., I telegraphed you and my anxious friends in the rear that the victory was ours. At about 12 p.m. the guns of General Pleasonton were heard on our left, and at 2 p. m. his lines were in full and successful co-operation on the left. The enemy's retiring movement was immediately changed to a complete rout and our troops took up the pursuit at full speed. I met with General Pleasonton at a farm-house on Indian Creek, where he related to me his movements, which had also commenced early in the morning and included active operations most of the day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22, 1864: Abraham Lincoln thanks Philip H. Sheridan

On this day 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln sent a telegram to Philip H. Sheridan, congratulating him on his victory at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864.

With great pleasure I tender to you and your brave army the thanks of the nation, and my own personal admiration and gratitude, for the month's operations in the Shenandoah Valley; and especially for the splendid work of October 19, 1864.

Your obedient servant,


Monday, October 20, 2014

October 20, 1864: Abraham Lincoln's "Proclamation of Thanksgiving"

On this day 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving. With the election of 1864 just weeks away, Lincoln was no doubt thankful for the Battle of Mobile Bay, the Fall of Atlanta, and Philip H. Sheridan's smashing victory at Cedar Creek just the day before.


A Proclamation.

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with his guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad, and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps, and our sailors on the rivers and seas, with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while he has opened to us new: sources of wealth, and has crowned the labor of our working-men in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, he has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions.

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid, that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust, and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the great Disposer of events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the, land which it has pleased him to assign as a dwelling-place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this twentieth day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.


By the President WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October 19, 1864: "Sheridan's Ride"

Philip H. Sheridan riding Rienzi, a chromolithograph by Thure de Thulstrup
Sheridan's Ride
by Thomas Buchanan Read

UP from the South at break of day,
Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay,
The affrighted air with a shudder bore,
Like a herald in haste, to the chieftain's door,
The terrible grumble, and rumble, and roar,
Telling the battle was on once more,
And Sheridan twenty miles away.

And wider still those billows of war,
Thundered along the horizon's bar;
And louder yet into Winchester rolled
The roar of that red sea uncontrolled,
Making the blood of the listener cold,
As he thought of the stake in that fiery fray,
And Sheridan twenty miles away.

But there is a road from Winchester town,
A good, broad highway leading down;
And there, through the flush of the morning light,
A steed as black as the steeds of night,
Was seen to pass, as with eagle flight,
As if he knew the terrible need;
He stretched away with his utmost speed;
Hills rose and fell; but his heart was gay,
With Sheridan fifteen miles away.

Still sprung from those swift hoofs, thundering South,
The dust, like smoke from the cannon's mouth;
Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster,
Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster.
The heart of the steed, and the heart of the master
Were beating like prisoners assaulting their walls,
Impatient to be where the battle-field calls;
Every nerve of the charger was strained to full play,
With Sheridan only ten miles away.

Under his spurning feet the road
Like an arrowy Alpine river flowed,
And the landscape sped away behind
Like an ocean flying before the wind,
And the steed, like a barque fed with furnace ire,
Swept on, with his wild eyes full of fire.
But lo! he is nearing his heart's desire;
He is snuffing the smoke of the roaring fray,
With Sheridan only five miles away.

The first that the general saw were the groups
Of stragglers, and then the retreating troops;
What was done? what to do? a glance told him both,
Then, striking his spurs, with a terrible oath,
He dashed down the line 'mid a storm of huzzas,
And the wave of retreat checked its course there, because
The sight of the master compelled it to pause.
With foam and with dust the black charger was gray;
By the flash of his eye, and the red nostril's play,
He seemed to the whole great army to say,
"I have brought you Sheridan all the way
From Winchester, down to save the day!"

Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan!
Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man!
And when their statues are placed on high,
Under the dome of the Union sky,
The American soldier's Temple of Fame;
There with the glorious general's name,
Be it said, in letters both bold and bright,
"Here is the steed that saved the day,
By carrying Sheridan into the fight,
From Winchester, twenty miles away!"

October 19, 1864: The Battle of Cedar Creek

Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early, C.S. Army
On this day 150 years ago, Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early launched a surprise attack against the encamped army of Union Major General Philip Sheridan at Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah Valley. The following is an account of the battle written by Jubal A. Early after the war. This account should be taken with a grain of salt because Early was writing after the war and trying to justify his failure. Early lays much of the blame for his defeat on his own soldiers, so this account doesn't give the Confederate soldiers credit for their bold attack or credit for the stubborn defense mounted by Union soldiers. Nor does it give due credit to the leadership of Philip Sheridan and the rallying of the Union soldiers who returned to the battle. Nothing quite like this had ever happened in the Civil War to this point. Previously, when an army broke, it stayed broken until night fell and it could be put back together by its officers after a retreat. At Cedar Creek, Sheridan, by sheer force of will, was able to turn a routed army around and launch a counterattack that crushed a victorious enemy in mid-stride. Cedar Creek was a battle where leadership mattered, and Sheridan's leadership beat Early's.

At the outset of this battle, the Confederates had already been beaten in the Shenandoah Valley on the strategic level. Sheridan was withdrawing after having devastated the Shenandoah Valley from an economic standpoint. During what would become known as "Red October," Sheridan's army had methodically carried away or destroyed all the food in the Shenandoah Valley, and had destroyed the Valley's capacity to produce crops again in the near future. Barns, silos, livestock enclosures, and farmhouses were torched. The Valley was an economic desert, and nothing Early could do could alter that fact. Nevertheless, Early was determined to attack. From "Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek" by Jubal A. Early
On the 1st of October [1864] I moved my whole force across the country to Mount Sidney on the valley pike. On the 5th Rosser's brigade arrived, but it did not exceed six hundred mounted men for duty when it joined me. Kershaw's division numbered 2700 muskets for duty, and he had brought with him Cutshaw's battalion of artillery. These reinforcements about made up my losses at Winchester and Fisher's Hill, and I determined to attack the enemy in his position at Harrisonburg, and for that purpose made a reconnoissance on the 5th, but on the morning of the 6th it was discovered that he had retired during the night down the v alley.  When it was discovered that the enemy was retiring, I moved forward at once and arrived at New Market with my infantry on the 7th. Rosser pushed forward on the back and middle roads in pursuit of the enemy's cavalry, which was engaged in burning houses, mills, barns, and stacks of wheat and hay, and had several skirmishes with it,while Lomax also moved forward on the valley pike and the roads east of it. I halted at New Market with the infantry, but Rosser and Lomax moved down the valley in pursuit, and skirmished successfully with the enemy's cavalry on the 9th they encountered his whole cavalry force at Tom's Brook in rear of Fisher's Hill and both of their commands were driven back in considerable confusion, with a loss of some pieces of artillery; nine were reported to me as the number lost, but Grant claims eleven.

Having heard that Sheridan was preparing to send part of his troops to Grant, I moved down the valley again on the 12th. On the morning of the 13th we reached Fisher's Hill, and there remained until the 16th. The enemy was found posted on the north bank of Cedar Creek, in a very strong position and in strong force. I was now compelled to move back for want of provisions and forage, or attack the enemy in his position with the hope of driving him from it, and I determined to attack. General Gordon and Captain Jed. Hotchkiss, my topographical engineer, were sent to the signal station on the end of Massanutten Mountain, which had been reestablished, for the purpose of examining the enemy's position from that point, and General John Pegram was ordered to go as near as he could to Cedar Creek on the enemy's right flank and see whether it was practicable to surprise him on that flank. Captain Hotchkiss returned to my headquarters after dark and reported the result of his and General Gordon's examination, and he gave me a sketch of the enemy's position and camps. He informed me that the enemy's left flank, which rested near Cedar Creek, a short distance above its mouth, was lightly picketed, and that there was but a small cavalry picket on the north fork of the Shenandoah, below the mouth of the creek, and he stated that, from information he had received, he thought it was practicable to move a column of infantry between the base of the mountain and the river to a ford below the mouth of the creek. He also informed me that the main body of the enemy's cavalry was on his right flank on the back road to Winchester. The sketch made by Captain Hotchkiss, which proved to be correct, designated the roads in the enemy's rear, and the house of a Mr. Cooley as a favorable point for forming an attacking column, after it crossed the river, in order to move against the enemy and strike him on the valley pike in rear of his works. The next morning General Gordon confirmed the report of Captain Hotchkiss, expressing confidence that the attack could be successfully made on the enemy's left and rear, and Genrted that a movement on the enemy's right flank would be attended with great difficulty, as the banks of Cedar Creek on that flank were high and precipitous and were well guarded.

General Gordon and Captain Hotchkiss were then sent to examine and ascertain the practicability of the route at the base of the mountain, and reported it to be practicable for infantry but not for artillery, and a temporary bridge was constructed, under Captain Hotchkiss's superintendence, at the first crossing of the river on our right. The plan of attack on which I determined was to send the three divisions of the Second Corps, to wit, Gordon's, Ramseur's and Pegram's under General Gordon, over the route which has been specified to the enemy's rear; to make the attack at 5 o'clock in the morning - which would be a little before daybreak; to move myself, with Kershaw's and Wharton's divisions, and all the artillery, along the pike through Strasburg, and attack the enemy on the front and left flank as soon as Gordon should become engaged, and for Rosser to move with his own and Wickham's brigade on the back road across Cedar Creek and attack the enemy's cavalry simultaneously with Gordon's attack, while Lomax should move by Front Royal, cross the river, and come to the valley pike, so as to strike the enemy wherever he might be, of which he w as to judge by the sound of the firing. The artillery was ordered to concentrate where the pike passed through the lines at Fisher's Hill, and, at the hour appointed for the attack, to move at a gallop to Hupp's Hill-the movement of the artillery being thus delayed for fear of attracting the attention of the enemy by the rumbling of the wheels over the macadamized roads. Swords and canteens were directed to be left in camp, so that there would be as little noise as possible.

Gordon moved at the appointed time, and after he had started General Pegram reported to me that he had discovered from the signal station on the mountain what he supposed to be an intrenchment thrown up acrhich Gordon would have to advance after crossing the river the second time, and that the signal operators had informed him that it had been thrown up since Gordon and Hotchkiss made their examination; and he suggested the propriety of attacking the enemy's left flank at the same time Gordon made his attack, as he would probably have more difficulty than had been anticipated. I adopted this suggestion, and at 1 o'clock on the morning of the 19th Kershaw and Wharton went forward, the former moving at Strasburg to the right on the road to Bowman's Mill, while Wharton moved along the pike to Hupp's Hill, with instructions not to display his forces, but to avoid the enemy's notice until the attack began, when he was to move forward, support the artillery when it came up and send a force to get possession of the bridge on the pike over the creek. I accompanied Kershaw's division, and we got in sight of the enemy's fires at half-past three o'clock. The moon was now shining and we could see the camps. The division was halted under cover to await the arrival of the proper time. and I pointed out to Kershaw and the commander of his leading brigade the enemy's position and described the nature of the ground, and directed them how the attack was ta be made and followed up. Kershaw was directed to cross his division over the creek as quietly as possible, and to form it into column of brigades as he did so, and advance in that manner against the enemy's left breastwork, extending to the right or left as might be necessary. At half-past four he was ordered forward, and a very short time after he started the firing from Rosser on our left and the picket firing at the ford at which Gordon was crossing were heard. Kershaw crossed the creek without molestation and formed his division as directed, and precisely at 5 o'clock his leading brigade, with little opposition, swept over the enemy's left work, capturing seven guns, which were at once turned on the enemy. As soon as this attack was made, I rode as rapidly as position on Hupp's Hill, to which Wharton and the artillery had been ordered. I found the artillery just arriving, and a very heavy fire of musketry was now heard in the enemy's rear from Gordon's column. Wharton had advanced his skirmishers to the creek, capturing some prisoners, but the enemy still held the works on our left of the pike, commanding that road and the bridge, and opened on us with his artillery. Our artillery was immediately brought into action and opened on the enemy, but he soon evacuated his works, and our men from the other columns rushed into them. Just then the sun rose, and Wharton's division and the artillery were immediately ordered forward. I rode in advance of them across the creek, and met General Gordon on the opposite hill. Kershaw's division had swept along the enemy's works on the right of the pike, which were occupied by Crook's corps, and he and Gordon had united at the pike, and their divisions had pushed across it in pursuit of the enemy. The rear division of Gordon's column (Pegram's) was crossing the river at the time Kershaw's attack was made, and General Gordon moved rapidly to Cooley's house, formed his troops and advanced against the enemy with his own division on the left, under Brigadier-General C. A. Evans and Ramseur's on the right, with Pegram's in the rear supporting them. There had been a delay of an hour at the river before crossing it, either from a miscalculation of time in the dark, or because the cavalry which was to precede his column had not gotten up, and the delay thus caused, for which no blame is to be attached to General Gordon, enabled the enemy partially to form his lines after the alarm produced by Kershaw's attack, and Gordon's attack, which was after light, was therefore met with greater obstinacy by the enemy than it would otherwise have encountered, and the fighting had been severe.

Gordon, however, pushed his attack with great energy, and the Nineteenth and Crook's corps were in complete rout, and their camps, with a number of pieces of artillery and a considerable quantity of small-arms, abandoned. The Sixth Corps, which was on the enemy's right, and some distance from the point attacked, had had time to get under arms and take position so as to arrest our progress. General Gordon briefly informed me of the condition of things, and stated that Pegram's division, which had not been previously engaged, had been ordered in. He then rode to take command of his division, and I rode forward on the pike to ascertain the position of the enemy, in order to continue the attack. There was now a heavy fog, and that, with the smoke from the artillery and small-arms, so obscured objects that the enemy's position could not be seen; but I soon came to Generals Ramseur and Pegram, who informed me that Pegram's division had encountered a division of the Sixth Corps on the left of the valley pike, and, after a sharp engagement, had driven it back on the main body of that corps, which was in their front in a strong position.

They further informed me that their divisions were in line confronting the Sixth Corps, but that there was a vacancy in the line on their right which ought to be filled. I ordered Wharton's division forward at once, and directed Generals Ramseur and Pegram to put it where it was required.

In a very short time, and while I was endeavoring to discover the enemy's line through the obscurity, Wharton's division came back in some confusion, and General Wharton informed me that, in advancing to the position pointed out to him by Generals Ramseur and Pegram, his. division had been driven back by the Sixth Corps, which, he said, was advancing. He pointed out the direction from which he said the enemy was advancing, and some pieces of artillery which had come up were brought into action. The fog soon rose sufficiently for us to see the enemy's position on a ridge to the west od it was discover ed to be a strong one. After driving back Wharton's division, he had not advanced, but opened on us with artillery, and orders were given for concentrating all our guns on him. In the meantime a force of cavalry was advancing along tho pike and through the fields to the right of Middletown, thus placing our right and rear in great danger, and Wharton was ordered to form his division at once and take position to hold the enemy's cavalry in check. Wofford's brigade of Kershaw's division, which had become separated from the other brigades, was ordered up for the same purpose. Discovering that the Sixth Corps could not be attacked with advantage on its left flank, because the approach in that direction was through an open flat and across a boggy stream with deep banks, I directed Captain Powell, serving on General Gordon's staff, who rode up to me while the artillery was being placed in position, to tell the general to advance against the enemy's right flank and attack it in conjunction with Kershaw, while a heavy fire of artillery was opened from our right; but as Captain Powell said he did not know where General Gordon was, and expressed some doubt about finding him, immediately after he started I sent Lieutenant Page, of my own staff, with orders for both Generals Gordon and Kershaw to make the attack. In a short time Colonel Carter concentrated eighteen or twenty guns on the enemy, and he was soon in retreat. Ramseur and Pegram advanced at once to the position from which the enemy was driven, and just then his cavalry commenced pressing heavily on the right, and Pegram's division was ordered to move to the north of Middletown and take position across the pike against the cavalry. Lieutenant Page had returned and informed me that he delivered my order to General Kershaw, but the latter informed him that his division. was not in a condition to make the attack, as it was very much scattered, and there was a cavalry force threatening him in front.

Lieutenant Page also stated that hn's division in Kershaw's rear re-forming, and that it was also much scattered, and that he had not delivered the order to General Gordon, because he saw that neither his division nor Kershaw's was in a condition to execute it. As soon as Pegram moved Kershaw was ordered from the left to supply his place. I then rode to Middletown to make provision against the enemy's cavalry, and discovered a large body of it seriously threatening that flank, which was very much exposed. Wharton's division and Wofford's brigade were put in position on Pegram's right, and several charges of the enemy's cavalry were repulsed. I had no cavalry on that flank except Payne's very small brigade, which had accompanied Gordon and made some captures of prisoners and wagons. Lomax had not arrived, but I received a message from him informing me that he had crossed the river after some delay from a cavalry force guarding it, and I sent a message to him requiring him to move to Middletown as quickly as possible, but, as I subsequently ascertained, he did not receive that message.

Rosser had attacked the enemy promptly at the appointed time, but he had not been able to surprise him, as he was found on the alert on that flank, doubtless owing to the attempt at a surprise on the night of the 16th. There was now one division of cavalry threatening my right flank, and two were on the left, near the back road, held in check by Rosser. The force of the latter was too weak to make any impression on the enemy's cavalry, and all he could do was to watch it. As I passed across Cedar Creek after the enemy was driven from it, I had discovered a number of men in the enemy's camps plundering, and one of Wharton's battalions was order ed to clear the camps and drive the men to their commands. It was reported to me subsequently that a great number were at the same work, and I sent all my staff officers who could be spared to stop it if possible, and orders were sent to the division commanders to send for their men.

After he was driven from his second position the enemy had taken a new position about two miles north of Middletown, and, as soon as I had regulated matters on the right so as to prevent his cavalry from getting in rear of that flank, I rode to the left for the purpose of ordering an advance.

I found Ramseur and Kershaw in line with Pegram, but Gordon had not come up. In a short time, however, I found him coming up from the rear, and I ordered him to take position on Kershaw's left and advaose of driving the enemy from his new position-Kershaw and Ramseur being ordered to advance at the same time. As the enemy's cavalry on our left was very strong, and had the benefit of an open country to the rear of that flank, a repulse at this time would have been disastrous, and I therefore directed General Gordon, if he found the enemy's line too strong to attack with success, not to make the assault. The advance was made for some distance, when Gordon's skirmishers came back reporting a line of battle in front behind breastworks, and General Gordon did not make the attack. It was now apparent that it would not do to press my troops further. They had been up all night and were much jaded. In passing over rough ground to attack the enemy in the early morning their own ranks had been much disordered and the men scattered, and it had required time to re-form them. Their ranks, moreover, were much thinned by the absence of the men engaged in plundering the enemy's camps.

The delay which had unavoidably occurred had enabled the enemy to rally a portion of his routed troops, and his immense force of cavalry, which remained intact, was threatening both of our flanks in an open country, which of itself rendered an advance extremely hazardous. I determined, therefore, to try and hold what had been gained, and orders were given for carrying off the captured and abandoned artillery, small-arms, and wagons. A number of bold attempts were made during the subsequent part of the day by the enemy's cavalry to break our line on the right, but they were invariably repulsed. Late in the afternoon the enemy's infantry advanced against Ramseur's, Kershaw's, and Gordon's lines, and the attack on Ramseur's and Kershaw's fronts was handsomely repulsed in my view, and I hoped that the day was finally ours, but a portion of the enemy had penetrated an interval which was between Evans's brigade, on the extreme left, and the rest of the line, when that brigade gave way and Gordon's other brigades soon followed. Generalry possible effort to rally his men and lead them back against the enemy, but without avail. The information of this affair, with exaggerations, passed rapidly along Kershaw's and Ramseur's lines, and their men, under the apprehension of being flanked, commenced falling back in disorder, though no enemy was pressing them, and this gave me the first intimation of Gordon's condition. At the same time the enemy's cavalry, observing the disorder in our ranks, made another charge on our right, but was again repulsed. Every effort was made to stop and rally Kershaw's and Ramseur's men, but the mass of them resisted all appeals and continued to go to the rear without waiting for any effort to retrieve the partial disorder.

Ramseur, however, succeeded in retaining with him two or three hundred men of his division, and Major Goggin, of Kershaw's staff, who was in command of Conner's brigade, about the same number from that brigade ; and these men, aided by several pieces of artillery, held the enemy's w hole force on our left in check for one hour and a half, until Ramseur was shot down mortally wounded and the ammunition of those pieces of artillery was exhausted. While the latter were being replaced by other guns the force that had remained with Ramseur and Goggin gave way also. Pegram's and Wharton's divisions and Wofford's brigade had remained steadfast on the right, and resisted all efforts of the enemy's cavalry; but no portion of this force could be moved to the left without leaving the pike open to the cavalry, which would have destroyed all hope at once.

Every effort to rally the men in the rear having failed, I had now nothing left for me but to order these troops to retire also. When they began to move the disorder soon extended to them, but General Pegram succeeded in bringing back a portion of his command across Cedar Creek in an organized condition, holding the enemy in check; but this small force soon dissolved. A part of Evans's brigade had been rallied in the rear and , held a ford abor a short time, but it followed the example of the rest. I tried to rally the men immediately after crossing Cedar Creek and at Hupp's Hill, but without success.

Could five hundred men have been rallied at either of these places, who would have stood by me, I am satisfied that all my artillery and wagons and the greater part of the captured artillery could have been saved, as the enemy's pursuit was very feeble. As it was, a bridge broke down on a very narrow part of the road between Strasburg and Fisher's Hill, just above Strasburg, where there was no other pass-way, thereby blocking up all the artillery, ordnance, and medical wagons and ambulances which had not passed that point; and, as there was no force to defend them, they were lost, a very small body of the enemy's cavalry capturing them.

The greater part of the infantry was halted at Fisher's Hill, and Rosser, whose command had retired in good order on the back road, was ordered to that point with his cavalry. The infantry moved back toward New Market at three o'clock next morning, and Rosser was left at Fisher's Hill to cover the retreat of the troops, and hold that position until they were beyond pursuit. He remained at Fisher's Hill until after ten o'clock on the 20th , and the enemy did not advance to that place while he was there. He then fell back without molestation to his former position, and established his line on Stony Creek, across from Columbia Furnace to Edinburg, seven miles below Mount Jackson. My other troops were halted at New Market, about seven miles from Mount Jackson, and there was an entirely open country between the two places, they being very nearly in sight of each other.

Lomax had moved on the day of the battle, on the Front Royal road toward Winchester, under the impression that the enemy was being forced back toward that place, and he did not reach me.
When he ascertained the reverse which had taken place in the latter part of the day, he retired up the Luray Valley to his former position at Millford, without molestation.

My loss in the battle of Cedar Creek was twenty-three pieces of artillery, some ordnance and medical wagons and ambulances, which had been carried to the front for the use of the troops on the field; about 1860 in killed and wounded, and something over 1000 prisoners. Major-General Ramseur fell into the hands of the enemy mortally wounded, and in him not only my command, but the country sustained a heavy loss. He was a most gallant and energetic officer whom no disaster appalled, but his courage and energy seemed to gain new strength in the midst of confusion and disorder. He fell at his post fighting like a lion at bay, and his native State has reason to be proud of his memory. Brigadier-General C. A. Battle was wounded at the beginning of the fight, and other valuable officers were lost. Fifteen hundred prisoners were captured from the enemy and brought off, and his loss in killed and wounded in this action was very heavy.

This was the case of a glorious victory given up by my own troops after they had won it, and it is to be accounted for on the ground of the partial demoralization caused by the plunder of the enemy's camps, and from the fact that the men undertook to judge for themselves when it was proper to retire.

Had my cavalry been sufficient to contend with that of the enemy, the rout in the morning would have been complete ; as it was, I had only about 1200 cavalry on the field under Rosser; Lomax's force, which numbered less than 1700, did not get up. My infantry and artillery were about the same strength as at Winchester. The reports of the ordnance officers showed in the hands of my troops about 8800 muskets, in round numbers as follows : in Kershaw's division, 2700 ; Ramseur's, 2100 Gordon's, 1700 ; Pegram's, 1200, and, Wharton's, 1100. Making a moderate allowance for the men left to guard the camps and the signal station on the mountain, as well as for a few sick and wounded, I went into this battle with about 8500 muskets and a little over forty pieces of artillery.

Sheridan was absent in the morning at the beginning of the fight, and returned in the afternoon before the change in the fortunes of the day. Nevertheless, I saw no reason to change the estimate I had formed of him.

It may be asked, why with my small force I made the attack. I can only say we had been fighting large odds during the whole war, and I knew there was no chance of lessening them. It was of the utmost consequence that Sheridan should be prevented from sending troopseneral Lee, in a letter received a day or two before, had expressed an earnest desire that a victory should be gained in the valley if possible, and it could not be gained without fighting for it.

I did hope to gain one by surprising the enemy in his camp, and then thought and still think I would have had it, if my directions had been strictly complied with, and my troops had awaited my orders to retire.
For maps and a detailed description of the battle, click here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

October 13, 1864: The Battle of Darbytown Road

On this day 150 years ago, Robert E. Lee reported on one of the many skirmishes and battles that occurred during the siege of Petersburg.
CHAFFIN'S BLUFF, October 13, 1864.

At 7 this morning enemy endeavored to advance between the Darbytown and Charles City roads, but was repulsed in every attempt. The most strenuous effort was made about 4 p.m., after which he withdrew, leaving many dead. Our loss very slight. General Breckinridge reports that a force of the enemy came to Greeneville on the 12th, and was defeated by Brigadier-General Vaughn. Some prisoners, two stand of colors, many horses and arms, were captured. The enemy lost many killed and wounded. Our loss slight.

R. E. LEE,


Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON,

Secretary of War.