Sheridan’s Tide-Turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The Battle of Cedar Creek and Its Aftermath (Virginia, October-December 1864)

Alfred Waud’s sketch, Surprise at Cedar Creek, captured the flanking attack on the rear of Union Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th Corps by Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate army, and the resistance by Emory’s troops from their Union rifle-pit positions, 19 October 1864 (public domain).

Sheridan having driven the enemy out of the valley, and taken the productions of the valley so that instead of going there for supplies the enemy would have to bring his provisions with him if he again entered it, recommended a reduction of his own force, the surplus to be sent where it could be of more use. I approved of his suggestion, and ordered him to send Wright’s corps back to the James River. I further directed him to repair the railroad up the Shenandoah Valley towards the advanced position which we would hold with a small force. The troops were to be sent to Washington by way of Culpeper, in order to watch the east side of the Blue Ridge, and prevent the enemy from getting into the rear of Sheridan while he was still doing his work of destruction.

The valley was so very important, however, to the Confederate army that, contrary to our expectations, they determined to make one more strike, and save it if possible before the supplies should all be destroyed.

– President Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

 

Those were the thoughts of President Ulysses S. Grant in 1885 as he recalled his days of strategic planning as head of the Union Army during America’s fateful Fall of 1864. Having just described how one of his leading commanding officers, Major-General Philip H. Sheridan, had won the Battles of Berryville, Opequan and Fisher’s Hill that September, he began to set the stage for his retelling of what would be one of the bloodiest and most important moments of the U.S. Civil War – the Battle of Cedar Creek.

Reinforcements had been sent to [Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal] Early, and this before any of our troops had been withdrawn. Early prepared to strike Sheridan at Harrisonburg; but the latter had not remained there.

On the 6th of October Sheridan commenced retiring down the valley, taking or destroying all the food and forage and driving the cattle before him, Early following. At Fisher’s Hill Sheridan turned his cavalry back on that of Early, which, under the lead of Rosser, was pursuing closely, and routed it most completely, capturing eleven guns and a large number of prisoners. Sheridan lost only about sixty men. His cavalry pursued the enemy back some twenty-five miles.

Custer’s Division Retiring from Mount Jackson, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 7 July 1864 (Alfred Waud, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Recalling the Fall 1864 movements of his troops from the vantage point of his own memoirs (penned in 1888), Sheridan noted that on 6 October 1864:

The cavalry as it retired was stretched across the country from the Blue Ridge to the eastern slope of the Alleghanies [sic], with orders to drive off all stock and destroy all supplies as it moved northward. The infantry proceeded [sic] the cavalry, passing down the Valley pike, and as we marched along the many columns of smoke from burning stacks, and mills filled with grain, indicated that the adjacent country was fast losing the features which hitherto had made it a great magazine of stores for the Confederate armies.

During the 6th and 7th of October, the enemy’s horse followed us up, though at a respectful distance. This cavalry was now under command of General T. W. Rosser, who on October 5 had joined Early with an additional brigade from Richmond. As we proceeded the Confederates gained confidence, probably on account of the reputation with which its new commander had been heralded, and on the third day’s march had the temerity to annoy my rear guard considerably. Tired of these annoyances, I concluded to open the enemy’s eyes in earnest, so that night I told Torbert I expected him to give Rosser a drubbing next morning or get whipped himself, and that the infantry would be halted until the affair was over; I also informed him that I proposed to ride out to Round Top Mountain to see the fight. When I decided to have Rosser chastised, Merritt was encamped at the foot of Round Top, an elevation just north of Tom’s Brook, and Custer some six miles farther north and west, near Tumbling Run. In the night Custer was ordered to retrace his steps before daylight by the Back road, which is parallel to and about three miles from the Valley pike, and attack the enemy at Tom’s Brook crossing, while Merritt’s instructions were to assail him on the Valley pike in concert with Custer. About 7 in the morning, Custer’s division encountered Rosser himself with three brigades, and while the stirring sounds of the resulting artillery duel were reverberating through the valley Merritt moved briskly to the front and fell upon Generals Lomax and Johnson on the Valley pike. Merritt, by extending his right, quickly established connection with Custer, and the two divisions move forward together under Torbert’s direction, with a determination to inflict on the enemy the sharp and summary punishment his rashness had invited.

The engagement soon became general across the valley, both sides fighting mainly mounted. For about two hours the contending lines struggled with each other along Tom’s Brook, the charges and counter charges at many points being plainly visible from the summit of Round Top, where I had my headquarters for the time.

The open country permitting a sabre fight, both sides seemed bent on using that arm. In the centre [sic] the Confederates maintained their position with much stubbornness, and for a time seemed to have recovered their former spirit, but at last they began to give way on both flanks, and as these receded, Merritt and Custer went at the wavering ranks in a charge along the whole front. The result was a general smash-up of the entire Confederate line, the retreat quickly degenerating into a rout the like of which was never before seen. For twenty-six miles this wild stampede kept up, with our troopers close at the enemy’s heels; and the ludicrous incidents of the chase never ceased to be amusing topics around the camp-fires of Merritt and Custer. In the fight and pursuit Torbert took eleven pieces of artillery, with their caissons, all the wagons and ambulances the enemy had on the ground, and three hundred prisoners….

After this catastrophe, Early reported to General Lee that his cavalry was so badly demoralized that it should be dismounted; and the citizens of the valley, intensely disgusted with the boasting and swaggering that had characterized the arrival of the ‘Laurel Brigade’ in that section, baptized the action (known to us as Tom’s Brook) the ‘Woodstock Races,’ and never tired of poking fun at General Rosser about his precipitate and inglorious fight.

On the 10th my army, resuming its retrograde movement, crossed to the north side of Cedar Creek. The work of repairing the Manassas Gap branch of the Orange and Alexandria railroad had been begun some days before, out from Washington, and, anticipating that it would be in readiness to transport troops by the time they could reach Piedmont, I directed the Sixth Corps to continue its march toward Front Royal, expecting to return to the Army of the Potomac by that line. By the 12th, however, my views regarding the reconstruction of this railroad began to prevail, and the work on it was discontinued. The Sixth Corps, therefore, abandoned that route, and moved toward Ashby’s Gap with the purpose of marching direct to Washington, but on the 13th I recalled it to Cedar Creek, in consequence of the arrival of the enemy’s infantry at Fisher’s Hill, and the receipt, the night before, of the following despatch [sic], which again opened the question of an advance on Gordonsville and Charlottesville:

‘(Cipher.)
WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 12, 1864, 12 M.
MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN:

Lieutenant-General Grant wishes a position taken far enough south to serve as a base for further operations upon Gordonsville and Charlottesville. It must be strongly fortified and provisioned. Some point in the vicinity of Manassas Gap would seem best suited for all purposes. Colonel Alexander, of the Engineers, will be sent to consult with you as soon as you connect with General Augur.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General.’

As it was well known in Washington that the views expressed in the above despatch [sic] were counter to my convictions, I was the next day required by the following telegram from Secretary Stanton to repair to that city:

‘WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 13, 1864.
MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN
(through General Augur):

If you can come here, a consultation on several points is extremely desirable. I propose to visit General Grant, and would like to see you first.

EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War’

I got all ready to comply with the terms of Secretary Stanton’s despatch [sic], but in the meantime the enemy appeared in my front in force, with infantry and cavalry, and attacked Colonel Thoburn, who had been pushed out toward Strasburg from Crook’s command, and also Custer’s division of cavalry on the Back road. As afterward appeared, this attack was made in the belief that all of my troops but Crook’s had gone to Petersburg. From this demonstration there ensued near Hupp’s Hill a bitter skirmish between Kershaw and Thoburn, and the latter was finally compelled to withdraw to the north bank of Cedar Creek. Custer gained better results, however, on the Back road, with his usual dash driving the enemy’s cavalry away from his front, Merritt’s division then joining him and remaining on the right.

In 1883, Union Army veterans gathered for a reunion at Belle Grove House, the site of former Major-General Philip H. Sheridan’s headquarters in the lead-up to the 19 October 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek Virginia (U.S. National Park Service, public domain).

The day’s events pointing to a probability that the enemy intended to resume the offensive, to anticipate such a contingency I ordered the Sixth Corps to return from its march toward Ashby’s Gap. It reached me by noon of the 14th, and went into position to the right and rear of the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers], which held a line along the north bank of Cedar Creek, west of the Valley pike. Crook was posted on the left of the Nineteenth Corps and east of the Valley pike, with Thoburn’s division advanced to a round hill, which commanded the junction of Cedar Creek and the Shenandoah River, while Torbert retained both Merritt and Custer on the right of the Sixth Corps, and at the same time covered with Powell the roads toward Front Royal. My headquarters were at the Belle Grove House, which was to the west of the pike and in rear of the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers]. It was my intention to attack the enemy as soon as the Sixth Corps reached me, but General Early having learned from his demonstration that I had not detached as largely as his previous information had led him to believe, on the night of the 13th withdrew to Fisher’s Hill; so, concluding that he could not do us serious hurt from there, I changed my mind as to attacking, deciding to defer such action till I could get to Washington, and come to some definite understanding about my future operations.

Grant, discovering that his directive to Sheridan “to halt, and improve the opportunity it afforded by the enemy’s having been sufficiently weakened, to move back again and cut the James River Canal and Virginia Central Railroad” had been disrupted by Union Major-General Henry W. Halleck’s interference in the transmittal of those orders to Sheridan, promptly reached out to Sheridan to clarify his thinking:

[W]hen Sheridan received what purported to be a statement of what I wanted him to do it was something entirely different. Halleck informed Sheridan that it was my wish for him to hold a forward position as a base from which to act against Charlottesville and Gordonsville; that he should fortify this position and provision it.

Sheridan objected to this most decidedly; and I was impelled to telegraph him, on the 14th as follows:

‘City Point, Va.,
October 14, 1864, 12:30 P.M.

MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN,
Cedar Creek, Va.

What I want is for you to threaten the Virginia Central Railroad and canal in the manner your judgment tells you is best, holding yourself ready to advance, if the enemy draw off their forces. If you make the enemy hold a force equal to your own for the protection of those thoroughfares, it will accomplish nearly as much as the destruction. If you cannot do this, then the next best thing to do is to send here all the force you can. I deem a good cavalry force necessary for your offensive, as well as defensive operations. You need not therefore send here more than one division of cavalry.

U.S. GRANT,
Lieutenant General’

Sheridan having been summoned to Washington City, started on the 15th leaving Wright in command. His army was then at Cedar Creek, some twenty miles south of Winchester.

The next morning [16 October 1864], while at Front Royal, Sheridan received a dispatch from Wright, saying that a dispatch from Longstreet to Early had been intercepted. It directed the latter to be ready to move and to crush Sheridan as soon as he, Longstreet, arrived. On the receipt of this news Sheridan ordered the cavalry up the valley to join Wright.

Meanwhile, Sheridan directed “all of the cavalry under General Torbert to accompany” him to Front Royal on 15 October, “again intending to push it thence through Chester Gap to the Virginia Central railroad at Charlottesville, to destroy the bridge over the Rivanna River, while I passed through Manassas Gap to Rectortown, and thence by rail to Washington.”

On my arrival with the cavalry near Front Royal on the 16th, I halted at the house of Mrs. Richards, on the north bank of the river, and there received the following despatch [sic] and inclosure [sic] from General Wright, who had been left in command at Cedar Creek:

‘HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION,
OCTOBER 16, 1864.

GENERAL:

I enclose you despatch [sic] which explains itself. If the enemy should be strongly re-enforced in cavalry, he might, by turning our right, give us a great deal of trouble. I shall hold on here until the enemy’s movements are developed, and shall only fear an attack on my right, which I shall make every preparation for guarding against and resisting.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H.
G. WRIGHT, Major-General Commanding. 

MAJOR-GENERAL P. H. SHERIDAN,
Commanding Middle Military Division.

[INCLOSURE.]

TO LIEUTENANT-GENERAL EARLY:

Be ready to move as soon as my forces join you, and we will crush Sheridan.

LONGSTREET, Lieutenant-General.’

The message from Longstreet had been taken down as it was being flagged from the Confederate signal-station on Three Top Mountain, and afterward translated by our signal officers, who knew the Confederate signal code. I first thought it a ruse, and hardly worth attention, but on reflection deemed it best to be on the safe side, so I abandoned the cavalry raid toward Charlottesville, in order to give General Wright the entire strength of the army, for it did not seem wise to reduce his numbers while reinforcement for the enemy might be near, and especially when such pregnant messages were reaching Early from one of the ablest of the Confederate generals. Therefore I sent the following note to General Wright:

‘HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION,
Front Royal, October 16, 1864.

GENERAL:

The cavalry is all ordered back to you; make your position strong. If Longstreet’s despatch [sic] is true, he is under the impression that we have largely detached. I will go over to Augur, and may get additional news. Close in Colonel Powell, who will be at this point. If the enemy should make an advance, I know you will defeat him. Look well to your ground and be well prepared. Get up everything that can be spared. I will bring up all I can, and will be up on Tuesday, if not sooner.

P. H. SHERIDAN, Major-General.

MAJOR-GENERAL H. G. WRIGHT,
Commanding Sixth Army Corps.’

U.S. Army Major-General Philip H. Sheridan’s horse, Rienzi, was also known as “Winchester.” The famed steed is shown here in Washington, D.C. post-Civil War (Smithsonian Institute, public domain).

At 5 o’clock on the evening of the 16th I telegraphed General Halleck from Rectortown, giving him the information which had come to me from Wright, asking if anything corroborative of it had been received from General Grant, and also saying that I would like to see Halleck; the telegram ending with the question: ‘Is it best for me to go to see you?’ Next morning I sent back to Wright all the cavalry except one regiment, which escorted me through Manassas Gap to the terminus of the railroad from Washington. I had with me Lieutenant-Colonel James W. Forsyth, chief-of-staff, and three of my aides, Major George A. Forsyth, Captain Joseph O’Keefe, and Captain Michael V. Sheridan. I rode my black horse, Rienzi, and the others their own respective mounts.

Before leaving Cedar Creek I had fixed the route of my return to be by rail from Washington to Martinsburg, and thence by horseback to Winchester and Cedar Creek, and had ordered three hundred cavalry to Martinsburg to escort me from that point to the front. At Rectortown I met General Augur, who had brought a force out from Washington to reconstruct and protect the line of railroad, and through him received the following reply from General Halleck:

‘HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES,
WASHINGTON, D.C., OCTOBER, 16, 1864.

TO MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN,
Rectortown, Va.

General Grant says that Longstreet brought with him no troops from Richmond, but I have very little confidence in the information collected at his headquarters. If you can leave your command with safety, come to Washington, as I wish to give you the views of the authorities here.

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General, Chief-of-Staff.’

In consequence of the Longstreet despatch [sic], I felt a concern about my absence which I could hardly repress, but after duly considering what Halleck said, and believing that Longstreet could not unite with Early before I got back, and that even if he did Wright would be able to cope with them both, I and my staff, with our horses, took the cars for Washington, where we arrived on the morning of the 17th at about 8 o’clock. I proceeded at an early hour to the War Department, and as soon as I met Secretary Stanton, asked him for a special train to be ready at 12 o’clock to take me to Martinsburg, saying that in view of existing conditions I must get back to my army as quickly as possible. He at once gave the order for the train, and then the Secretary, Halleck, and I proceeded to hold a consultation in regard to my operating east of the Blue Ridge. The upshot was that my views against such a plan were practically agreed to, and two engineer officers were designated to return with me for the purpose of reporting on a defensive line in the valley that could be held while the bulk of my troops were being detached to Petersburg. Colonel Alexander and Colonel Thom, both of the Engineer Corps, reported to accompany me, and at 12 o’clock we took the train.

We arrived about dark at Martinsburg, and there found the escort of three hundred men which I had ordered before leaving Cedar Creek. We spent that night at Martinsburg, and early next morning mounted and started up the Valley pike for Winchester, leaving Captain Sheridan behind to conduct to the army the Commissioners whom the State of New York had sent down to receive the vote of her troops in the coming Presidential election. Colonel Alexander … and Colonel Thom … were both unaccustomed to riding [and] we had to go slowly, losing so much time, in fact, that we did not reach Winchester till between 3 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon, though the distance is but twenty-eight miles. As soon as we arrived at Colonel Edwards’s headquarters in the town, where I intended stopping for the night, I sent a courier to the front to bring me a report of the condition of affairs, and then took Colonel Alexander out on the heights about Winchester, in order that he might overlook the country, and make up his mind as to the utility of fortifying there. By the time we had completed out survey it was dark, and just as we reached Colonel Edwards’s house on our return a courier came in from Cedar Creek bringing word that everything was all right, that the enemy was quiet at Fisher’s Hill, and that a brigade of Grover’s division was to make a reconnaissance in the morning, the 19th, so about 10 o’clock I went to bed greatly relieved, and expecting to rejoin my headquarters at my leisure next day.

According to Grant, however, the intelligence provided to Sheridan was seriously flawed:

On the 18th of October Early was ready to move, and during the night succeeded in getting his troops in the rear of our left flank, which fled precipitately and in great confusion down the valley, losing eighteen pieces of artillery and a thousand or more prisoners [Battle of Cedar Creek]. The right under General Getty maintained a firm and steady front, falling back to Middletown where it took a position and made a stand. The cavalry went to the rear, seized the roads leading to Winchester and held them for the use of our troops in falling back, General Wright having ordered a retreat back to that place.

Sheridan having left Washington on the 18th, reached Winchester that night. The following morning he started to join his command. He had scarcely got out of town, when he met his men returning, in panic from the front and also heard heavy firing to the south. He immediately ordered the cavalry at Winchester to be deployed across the valley to stop the stragglers. Leaving members of his staff to take care of Winchester and the public property there, he set out with a small escort directly for the scene of the battle. As he met the fugitives he ordered them to turn back, reminding them that they were going the wrong way. His presence soon restored confidence. Finding themselves worse frightened than hurt the men did halt and turn back. Many of those who had run ten miles got back in time to redeem their reputation as gallant soldiers before night.

Still not provided with adequate intelligence by his staff by the following morning, Sheridan began his day at a leisurely pace, clearly unaware of the potential disaster in the making:

Toward 6 o’clock the morning of the 19th, the officer on picket duty at Winchester came to my room, I being yet in bed, and reported artillery firing from the direction of Cedar Creek. I asked him if the firing was continuous or only desultory, to which he replied that it was not a sustained fire, but rather irregular and fitful. I remarked: ‘It’s all right; Grover has gone out this morning to make a reconnaissance, and he is merely feeling the enemy.’ I tried to go to sleep again, but grew so restless that I could not, and soon got up and dressed myself. A little later the picket officer came back and reported that the firing, which could be distinctly heard from his line on the heights outside of Winchester, was still going on. I asked him if it sounded like a battle, and as he again said that it did not, I still inferred that the cannonading was caused by Grover’s division banging away at the enemy simply to find out what he was up to. However, I went down-stairs and requested that breakfast be hurried up, and at the same time ordered the horses to be saddled and in readiness, for I concluded to go to the front before any further examinations were made in regard to the defensive line.

We mounted our horses between half-past 8 and 9, and as we were proceeding up the street which leads directly through Winchester, from the Logan residence, where Edwards was quartered, to the Valley pike, I noticed that there were many women at the windows and doors of the houses, who kept shaking their skirts at us and who were otherwise markedly insolent in their demeanor, but supposing this conduct to be instigated by their well-known and perhaps natural prejudices, I ascribed to it no unusual significance. On reaching the edge of town I halted a moment, and there heard quite distinctly the sound of artillery firing in an unceasing roar. Concluding from this that a battle was in progress, I now felt confident that the women along the street had received intelligence from the battlefield by the ‘grape-vine telegraph,’ and were in raptures over some good news, while I as yet was utterly ignorant of the actual situation. Moving on, I put my head down toward the pommel of my saddle and listened intently, trying to locate and interpret the sound, continuing in this position till we had crossed Mill Creek, about half a mile from Winchester. The result of my efforts in the interval was the conviction that the travel of the sound was increasing too rapidly to be accounted for by my own rate of motion, and that therefore my army must be falling back.

At Mill Creek my escort fell in behind, and we were going ahead at a regular pace, when, just as we made the crest of the rise beyond the stream, there burst upon our view the appalling spectacle of a panic-stricken army – hundreds of slightly wounded men, throngs of others unhurt but utterly demoralized, and baggage-wagons by the score, all pressing to the rear in hopeless confusion, telling only too plainly that a disaster had occurred at the front. On accosting some of the fugitives, they assured me that the army was broken up, in full retreat, and that all was lost; all this with a manner true to that peculiar indifference that takes possession of panic-stricken men. I was greatly disturbed by the sight, but at once sent word to Colonel Edwards, commanding the brigade in Winchester, to stretch his troops across the valley, near Mill Creek, and stop all fugitives, directing also that the transportation be passed through and parked on the north side of the town.

As I continued at a walk a few hundred yards farther, thinking all the time of Longstreet’s telegram to Early, ‘Be ready when I join you, and we will crush Sheridan,’ I was fixing in my mind what I should do. My first thought was to stop the army in the suburbs of Winchester as it came back, form a new line, and fight there; but as the situation was more maturely considered a better conception prevailed. I was sure the troops had confidence in me, for heretofore we had been successful; and as at other times they had seen me present at the slightest sign of trouble or distress, I felt that I ought to try now to restore their broken ranks, or, failing in that, to share their fate because of what they had done hitherto.

About this time Colonel Wood, my chief commissary, arrived from the front and gave me fuller intelligence, reporting that everything was gone, my headquarters captured, and the troops dispersed. When I heard this I took two of my aides-de-camp, Major George A. Forsyth and Captain Joseph O’Keefe, and with twenty men from the escort started for the front, at the same time directing Colonel James W. Forsyth and Colonels Alexander and Thom to remain behind and do what they could to stop the runaways.

For a short distance I traveled on the road, but soon found it so blocked with wagons and wounded men that my progress was impeded, and I was forced to take to the adjoining fields to make haste. When most of the wagons and wounded were past I returned to the road, which was thickly lined with unhurt men, who, having got far enough to the rear to be out of danger, had halted without any organization, and begun cooking coffee, but when they saw me they abandoned their coffee, threw up their hats, shouldered their muskets, and as I passed along turned to follow with enthusiasm and cheers. To acknowledge this exhibition of feeling I took off my hat, and with Forsyth and O’Keefe rode some distance in advance of my escort, while every mounted officer who saw me galloped out on either side of the pike to tell the men at a distance that I had come back. In this way the news was spread to the stragglers off the road, when they, too, turned their faces to the front and marched toward the enemy, changing in a moment from the depths of depression to the extreme of enthusiasm. I already knew that even in the ordinary condition of mind enthusiasm is a potent element with soldiers, but what I saw that day convinced me that if it can be excited from a state of despondency its power is almost irresistible. I said nothing except to remark, as I rode among those on the road: ‘If I had been with you this morning this disaster would not have happened. We must face the other way; we will go back and recover our camp.’

My first halt was made just north of Newtown, where I met a chaplain digging his heels into the sides of his jaded horse, and making for the rear with all possible speed. I drew up for an instant, and inquired of him how matters were going at the front. He replied, ‘Everything is lost; but all will be right when you get there’; yet notwithstanding this expression of confidence in me, the parson at once resumed his breathless pace to the rear. At Newtown I was obliged to make a circuit to the left, to get round the village. I could not pass through it, the streets were so crowded, but meeting on this detour Major McKinley, of Crook’s staff, he spread the news of my return through the motley throng there.

According to Grant, “When Sheridan got to the front he found Getty and Custer still holding their ground firmly between the Confederates and our retreating troops.”

Everything in the rear was now ordered up. Sheridan at once proceeded to intrench [sic] his position; and he awaited an assault from the enemy. This was made with vigor, and was directed principally against Emory’s corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers], which had sustained the principal loss in the first attack. By one o’clock the attack was repulsed. Early was so badly damaged that he seemed disinclined to make another attack, but went to work to intrench [sic] himself with a view to holding the position he had already gained….

Union General Phil Sheridan’s ride to the front, 19 October 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 5 November 1864, Library of Congress, public domain).

What Sheridan encountered as he approached Newtown and the Valley pike from the south made him urge Rienzi on:

I saw about three-fourths of a mile west of the pike a body of troops, which proved to be Rickett’s and Wheaton’s divisions of the Sixth Corps, and then learned that the Nineteenth Corps [to which the 47th Pennsylvania had been assigned] had halted a little to the right and rear of these; but I did not stop, desiring to get to the extreme front. Continuing on parallel with the pike, about midway between Newtown and Middletown I crossed to the west of it, and a little later came up in rear of Getty’s division of the Sixth Corps. When I arrived, this division and the cavalry were the only troops in the presence of and resisting the enemy; they were apparently acting as a rear guard at a point about three miles north of the line we held at Cedar Creek when the battle began. General Torbert was the first officer to meet me, saying as he rode up, ‘My God! I am glad you’ve come.’ Getty’s division, when I found it, was about a mile north of Middleton, posted on the reverse slope of some slightly rising ground, holding a barricade made with fence-rails, and skirmishing slightly with the enemy’s pickets. Jumping my horse over the line of rails, I rode to the crest of the elevation, and there taking off my hat, the men rose up from behind their barricade with cheers of recognition. An officer of the Vermont brigade, Colonel A. S. Tracy, rode out to the front, and joining me, informed me that General Louis A. Grant was in command there, the regular division commander General Getty, having taken charge of the Sixth Corps in place of Ricketts, wounded early in the action, while temporarily commanding the corps. I then turned back to the rear of Getty’s division, and as I came behind it, a line of regimental flags rose up out of the ground, as it seemed, to welcome me. They were mostly the colors of Crook’s troops, who had been stampeded and scattered in the surprise of the morning. The color-bearers, having withstood the panic, had formed behind the troops of Getty. The line with the colors was largely composed of officers, among whom I recognized Colonel R. B. Hayes, since president of the United States, one of the brigade commanders. At the close of this incident I crossed the little narrow valley, or depression, in rear of Getty’s line, and dismounting on the opposite crest, established that point as my headquarters. In a few minutes some of my staff joined me, and the first directions I gave were to have the Nineteenth Corps [to which the 47th Pennsylvania was attached] and the two divisions of Wright’s corps brought to the front, so they could be formed on Getty’s division prolonged to the right; for I had already decided to attack the enemy from that line as soon as I could get matters in shape to take the offensive. Crook met me at this time, and strongly favored my idea of attacking, but said, however, that most of his troops were gone. General Wright came up a little later, when I saw that he was wounded, a ball having grazed the point of his chin so as to draw the blood plentifully.

Wright gave me a hurried account of the day’s events, and when told that we would fight the enemy on the line which Getty and the cavalry were holding, and that he must go himself and send all his staff to bring up the troops, he zealously fell in with the scheme; and it was then that the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] and two divisions of the Sixth were ordered to the front from where they had been halted to the right and rear of Getty.

After this conversation I rode to the east of the Valley pike and to the left of Getty’s division, to a point from which I could obtain a good view of the front, in the mean time [sic] sending Major Forsyth to communicate with Colonel Lowell (who occupied a position close in toward the suburbs of Middletown and directly in front of Getty’s left) to learn whether he could hold on there. Lowell replied that he could. I then ordered Custer’s division back to the right flank, and returning to the place where my headquarters had been established I met near them Rickett’s division under General Kiefer and General Frank Wheaton’s division, both marching to the front. When the men of these divisions saw me they began cheering and took up the double quick to the front, while I turned back toward Getty’s line to point out where these returning troops should be place. Having done this, I ordered General Wright to resume command of the Sixth Corps, and Getty, who was temporarily in charge of it, to take command of his own division. A little later the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] came up and was posted between the right of the Sixth Corps and Middle Marsh Brook.

Sheridan Rallying His Troops, Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

All this had consumed a great deal of time, and I concluded to visit again the point to the east of the Valley pike, from where I had first observed the enemy, to see what he was doing. Arrived there, I could plainly seem him getting ready for attack, and Major Forsyth now suggested that it would be well to ride along the line of battle before the enemy assailed us, for although the troops had learned of my return, but few of them had seen me. Following his suggestion I started in behind the men, but when a few paces had been taken I crossed to the front and, hat in hand, passed along the entire length of the infantry line; and it is from this circumstance that many of the officers and men who then received me with such heartiness have since supposed that that was my first appearance on the field. But at least two hours had elapsed since I reached the ground, for it was after mid-day when this incident of riding down the front took place, and I arrived not later, certainly, than half-past 10 o’clock.

After re-arranging the line and preparing to attack I returned again to observe the Confederates, who shortly began to advance on us. The attacking columns did not cover my entire front, and it appeared that their onset would be mainly directed against the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania], so, fearing that they might be too strong for Emory on account of his depleted condition (many of his men not having had time to get up from the rear), and Getty’s division being free from assault, I transferred a part of it from the extreme left to the support of the Nineteenth Corps. The assault was quickly repulsed by Emory, however, and as the enemy fell back Getty’s troops were returned to their original place. This repulse of the Confederates made me feel pretty safe from further  offensive operations on their part, and I now decided to suspend the fighting till my thin ranks were further strengthened by the men who were continually coming up from the rear, and particularly till Crook’s troops could be assembled on the extreme left.

In consequence of the despatch [sic] already mentioned, ‘Be ready when I join you, and we will crush Sheridan,’ since learned to have been fictitious, I had been supposing all day that Longstreet’s troops were present, but as no definite intelligence on this point had been gathered, I concluded, in the lull that now occurred, to ascertain something positive regarding Longstreet; and Merritt having been transferred to our left in the morning, I directed him to attack an exposed battery then at the edge of Middletown, and capture some prisoners. Merritt soon did this work effectually, concealing his intention till his troops got close in to the enemy, and then by a quick dash gobbling up a number of Confederates. When the prisoners were brought in, I learned from them that the only troops of Longstreet’s in the fight were of Kershaw’s division, which had rejoined Early at Brown’s Gap in the latter part of September, and that the rest of Longstreet’s corps was not on the field. The receipt of this information entirely cleared the way for me to take the offensive, but on the heels of it came information that Longstreet was marching by the Front Royal pike to strike my rear at Winchester, driving Powell’s cavalry in as he advanced. This renewed my uneasiness, and caused me to delay the general attack till after assurances  came from Powell, denying utterly the reports as to Longstreet, and confirming the statements of the prisoners.

Launching another advance sometime mid-afternoon during which Sheridan “sent his cavalry by both flanks, and they penetrated to the enemy’s rear,” Grant added:

The contest was close for a time, but at length the left of the enemy broke, and disintegration along the whole line soon followed. Early tried to rally his men, but they were followed so closely that they had to give way very quickly every time they attempted to make a stand. Our cavalry, having pushed on and got in the rear of the Confederates, captured twenty-four pieces of artillery, besides retaking what had been lost in the morning. This victory pretty much closed the campaign in the Valley of Virginia. All the Confederate troops were sent back to Richmond with the exception of one division of infantry and a little cavalry. Wright’s corps was ordered back to the Army of the Potomac, and two other divisions were withdrawn from the valley. Early had lost more men in killed, wounded and captured in the valley than Sheridan had commanded from first to last.

Battlefields of Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek, Virginia (U.S. Engineers’ Map, Lieutenant-Colonel G. L. Gillespie, 1873, public domain).

Sheridan recalled this phase of the battle as follows:

Between half-past 3 and 4 o’clock, I was ready to assail, and decided to do so by advancing my infantry line in a swinging movement, so as to gain the Valley pike with my right between Middletown and the Belle Grove House; and when the order was passed along, the men pushed steadily forward with enthusiasm and confidence. General Early’s troops extended some little distance beyond our right, and when my flank neared the overlapping enemy, he turned on it, with the effect of causing a momentary confusion, but General McMillan [and his troops, which included the 47th Pennsylvania] quickly realizing the danger, broke the Confederates at the re-entering angle by a counter charge with his brigade, doing his work so well that the enemy’s flanking troops were cut off from their main body and left to shift for themselves. Custer, who was just then moving in from the west side of Middle Marsh Brook, followed McMillan’s timely blow with a charge of cavalry…. [T]he troops broken by McMillan had gained some little distance to their rear, but Custer’s troopers sweeping across the Middletown meadows and down toward Cedar Creek, took many of them prisoners before they could reach the stream….

My whole line as far as the eye could see was now driving everything before it, from behind trees, stone walls, and all such sheltering obstacles, so I rode toward the left to ascertain how matters were getting on there. As I passed along behind the advancing troops, first General Grover, and then Colonel Mackenzie, rode up to welcome me. Both were severely wounded, and I told them to leave the field, but they implored permission to remain till success was certain. When I reached the Valley pike Crook had reorganized his men, and as I desired that they should take part in the fight, for they were the very same troops that had turned Early’s flank at the Opequon and at Fisher’s Hill, I ordered them to be pushed forward; and the alacrity and celerity with which they moved on Middletown demonstrated that their ill-fortune of the morning had not sprung from lack of valor.

Meanwhile Lowell’s brigade of cavalry, which, it will be remembered, had been holding on, dismounted, just north of Middletown ever since the time I arrived from Winchester, fell to the rear for the purpose of getting their led horses. A momentary panic was created in the nearest brigade of infantry by this withdrawal of Lowell, but as soon as his men were mounted they charged the enemy clear up to the stone walls in the edge of Middletown; at sight of this the infantry brigade renewed its attack, and the enemy’s right gave way. The accomplished Lowell received his death-wound in this courageous charge.

All our troops were now moving on the retreating Confederates, and as I rode to the front Colonel Gibbs, who succeeded Lowell, made ready for another mounted charge, but I checked him from pressing the enemy’s right, in the hope that the swinging attack from my right would throw most of the Confederates to the east of the Valley pike, and hence off their line of retreat through Strasburg to Fisher’s Hill. The eagerness of the men soon frustrated this anticipation, however, the left insisting on keeping pace with the centre [sic] and right, and all pushing ahead till we regained our old camps at Cedar Creek. Beyond Cedar Creek, at Strasburg, the pike makes a sharp turn to the west toward Fisher’s Hill, and here Merritt uniting with Custer, they together fell on the flank of the retreating columns, taking many prisoners, wagons, and guns, among the prisoners being Major-General Ramseur, who, mortally wounded, died the next day.

On 22 October 1864, President Abraham Lincoln wrote this letter congratulating Major-General Philip Sheridan for his recent victory at Cedar Creek (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

When the news of the victory was received, General Grant directed a salute of one hundred shotted [sic] guns to be fired into Petersburg, and the President at once thanked the army in an autograph letter [which simply stated]:

‘Executive Mansion
Washington, Oct. 22, 1864

Major General Sheridan

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 months operations in the Shenandoah Valley, and especially for the splendid work of Oct. 19, 1864.

Your Obt. Servt.
Abraham Lincoln’

Several weeks later, President Lincoln then promoted Sheridan to the rank of Major-General with the U.S. Army.

I received notice of this in a special letter from the Secretary of War, saying, ‘that for the personal gallantry, military skill, and just confidence in the courage and patriotism of your troops, displayed by you on the 19th day of October at Cedar Run, whereby, under the blessing of Providence, your routed army was reorganized, a great National disaster averted, and a brilliant victory achieved over the rebels for the third time in pitched battle within thirty days, Philip H. Sheridan is appointed a major-general in the United States Army.’

The direct result of the battle was the recapture of all the artillery, transportation, and camp equipage we had lost, and in addition twenty-four pieces of the enemy’s artillery, twelve hundred prisoners, and a number of battle-flags. But more still flowed from this victory, succeeding as it did the disaster of the morning, for the re-occupation of our old camps at once re-established a morale which for some hours had been greatly endangered by ill-fortune.

It was not till after the battle that I learned fully what had taken place before my arrival, and then found that the enemy, having gathered all the strength he could through the return of convalescents and other absentees, had moved quietly from Fisher’s Hill, in the night of the 18th and early on the morning of the 19th, to surprise my army, which, it should be remembered, was posted on the north bank of Cedar Creek, Crook holding on the left of the Valley pike, with Thoburn’s division advanced toward the creek, and Duval’s (under Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes) and Kitching’s provisional divisions to the north and rear of Thoburn. The Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] was on the right of Crook, extending in a semi-circular line from the pike nearly to Meadow Brook, while the Sixth Corps lay to the west of the book in readiness to be used as a movable column. Merritt’s division was to the right and rear of the Sixth Corps, and about a mile and a half west of Merritt was Custer covering the fords of Cedar Creek as far west as the Middle road.

General Early’s plan was for one column under General Gordon, consisting of three divisions of infantry (Gordon’s, Ramseur’s, and Pegram’s), and Payne’s brigade of cavalry, to cross the Shenandoah River directly east of the Confederate works at Fisher’s Hill, march around the northerly face of the Massanutten Mountain, and again cross the Shenandoah at Bowman’s and McInturff’s fords. Payne’s task was to capture me at the Belle Grove House. General Early himself, with Kershaw’s and Wharton’s divisions, was to move through Strasburg, Kershaw, accompanied by Early, to cross Cedar Creek at Roberts’s ford and connect with Gordon, while Wharton was to continue on the Valley pike to Hupp’s Hill and join the left of Kershaw, when the crossing of the Valley pike over Cedar Creek became free.

Lomax’s cavalry, then in the Luray Valley, was ordered to join the right of Gordon on the field of battle, while Rosser was to carry the crossing of Cedar Creek on the Back road and attack Custer. Early’s conceptions were carried through in the darkness with little accident or delay, Kershaw opening the fight by a furious attack on Thoburn’s division, while at dawn and in a dense fog Gordon struck Crook’s extreme left, surprising his pickets, and bursting into his camp with such suddenness as to stampede Crook’s men. Gordon directing his march on my headquarters (the Belle Grove House), successfully turned our position as he gained the Valley pike, and General Wright was thus forced to order the withdrawal of the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] from its post at the Cedar Creek crossing, and this enabled Wharton to get over the stream there unmolested and join Kershaw early in the action.

After Crook’s troops had been driven from their camps, General Wright endeavored to form a line with the Sixth Corps to hold the Valley pike to the left of the Nineteenth [including the 47th Pennsylvania], but failing in this he ordered the withdrawal of the latter corps, Ricketts, temporarily commanding the Sixth Corps, checking Gordon till Emory [and his troops, including the 47th Pennsylvania] had retired. As already stated, Wharton was thus permitted to cross Cedar Creek on the pike, and now that Early had a continuous line, he pressed his advantage so vigorously that the whole Union army was soon driven from its camps in more or less disorder; and though much disjointed resistance was displayed, it may be said that no systematic stand was made until Getty’s division, aided by Torbert’s  cavalry, which Wright had ordered to the left early in the action, took up the ground where, on arriving from Winchester, I found them.

When I left my command on the 16th, little did I anticipate that anything like this would happen. Indeed, I felt satisfied that Early was, of himself, too weak to take the offensive, and although I doubted the Longstreet despatch [sic], yet I was confident that, even should it prove true, I could get back before the junction could be made, and at the worst I felt certain that my army was equal to confronting the forces of Longstreet and Early combined. Still, the surprise of the morning might have befallen me as well as the general on whom it did descend, and though it is possible that this could have been precluded  had Powell’s cavalry been closed in, as suggested in my despatch [sic] from Front Royal, yet the enemy’s desperation might have prompted some other clever and ingenious scheme for relieving his fallen fortunes in the Shenandoah Valley.

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers – Valor and Unprecedented Loss

Headstone of Sergeant William Pyers, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Co. C, Winchester National Cemetery, Virginia; he was killed in the fighting at the Cooley Farm during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (courtesy of Randy Fletcher, 2014).

Two days after the last shot was fired during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, Henry Wharton recapped the valor and horror of the day for his hometown newspaper – the Sunbury American:

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
NEAR MIDDLETOWN, Va., Oct 21, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

On Wednesday morning, October 19, at 4 o’clock, the rebels under Early made an attack and by a flank movement nearly undone the glorious work and victories achieved during the last month. Early’s forces were reported, the evening previous to the attack, to have left Fisher’s Hill and were moving up the valley towards Staunton. The report cause less vigilance on the part of some one in command, and at the hour mentioned the Johnneys [sic] came on the left flank of the 8th corps, taking them by surprise, and pouring in such a deadly fire that they were forced to leave their breastworks. The 19th corps was ordered to their support that they (the 8th) might form their broken ranks, which they did, but the terrific fire of the enemy forced them back, and as they were unsupported, they fell from line to line, pouring into the rebel ranks the deadliest fire, until they fell back to 6th corps, who had just come up. The fighting then was desperate, but by some means our flanks were exposed, and our forces fell back 1 mile east of Middletown. Here our men made a decided stand and held their position.

Up to this time we had lost twenty-two pieces of artillery, a portion of our wagon train, ambulances and a number of prisoners. At this critical moment Gen Sheridan who had been on to Washington, arrived. – His presence was received by the troops with cheers that made the valley ring. Gen Custer was so elated that he dismounted and embraced his beloved commander. A General rode up to Sheridan and said, ‘Sir, we are badly whipped, but the boys are not, and to-night they will encamp on their old ground,’ and turned his horse and rode in front of the entire line. When he reviewed his troops and had matters fixed to suit himself, orders was [sic] given to charge. This was done and with such impetuosity that the Johnnies could not stand it, and then commenced the tallest running that has yet been done on the sacred soil by any of the chivalry. Our infantry followed in pursuit across Cedar Creek to Strasburg, when they halted, the cavalry, however, following up the retreat to Harrisonburg, and perhaps further for aught I know to the contrary. We recaptured all our guns, besides twenty-six pieces of the enemy, that they had just brought from Richmond. We re-captured our wagons with one hundred and fifty of theirs, any quantity of small arms and four thousand prisoners. The road to Strasburg showed plainly their eagerness to escape. – Ambulances, caissons, torn horses, small arms, &c., filled the road. The retreat of Early, at Winchester, was a big thing on ice; but this beats anything I ever saw and is beyond my powers of description. It was a great and glorious victory, and shows what confidence the men have in that great little man, Major-General Phil Sheridan.

This victory was, to us, of company C, dearly bought, and will bring with it sorrow to more than one in Sunbury. It is my painful duty to inform you of the news [sic] and I will now give you our loss in killed wounded and missing.

KILLED.
Sergeant William Pyers,
“                   John Bartlow,
Privates – Theodore Kiehl, Jasper Gardner, John E. Will, James Brown, George Keiser.

WOUNDED.
Captain D. Oyster, right arm.
Bellas Rodrigue, slight.
Joseph Walters, slight.
George Blain, thigh.
Jacob Grubb, two wounds in leg.
Jesse G. Green, two wounds in leg.
David Weikel, arm and side.
William Michaels, wrist.
Alex. Given, abdomen.
Richard O’Rourke, face and shoulder.
John Lunken, nose.
Perry Colvin, twice in head, slight.
George Hepler, slight, head.
H.
Keiser, thumb.
P.
Swinehart, side.
William Finck, leg.

Pennsylvania Monument, Salisbury National Cemetery, site of the former Confederate prison camp where so many 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers died from starvation or disease, and were buried in unmarked mass graves (Section C, North side elevation looking south, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

MISSING.
1st Sergeant William Fry, prisoner.
Martin Berger, prisoner.
George D. John.
Isaac Kramer, prisoner.
* B. A. Shiffer,        “ [prisoner].
Joseph Smith,       “ [prisoner].
John W. Firth, lately released from Tyler, Texas.

The loss in the 47th Reg’t. was one hundred and seventy-one (171) killed, wounded and missing. The wounded are getting along well, and I am assured by the Surgeons that none of them are dangerous. – The rest of the boys are well. Please remember me to friends.

Yours, Fraternally,
H.
D. W.

* Mr. Shiffer [sic, alternate spelling: “Shiffin”] has since written a letter to this place, stating that he was at Baltimore, and was wounded in the thigh. – ED.

In subsequent days and weeks, regimental rosters were revised again and again, as Wharton and other clerks added more men to the list of those who had been killed in action, confirmed the Confederate prison camp locations of the 47th Pennsylvanians who had been captured in battle, and changed the status of the most gravely wounded to “deceased.” By the time the tallies were finally completed, it was clear that the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had sustained a grievous casualty rate equal to roughly two of its ten companies.

  • Acker, Joseph (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Andrews, Valentine (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Bachman, Charles (Sergeant, Company B; wounded; survived)
  • Baldwin, Isaac (Corporal, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Bartholomew, John (Private, Company I; killed in action)
  • Beavers, Henry (Private, Company E; captured and held as a POW at a Confederate prison camp until his release 8 March 1865; discharged 14 June 1865 by General Order)
  • Berger, Martin M. (Private, Company C; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died 6 January 1865)
  • Becher, John (Private, Company G; killed in action)
  • Berksheimer, Marcus (Private, Company E; killed in action)
  • Berliner, Lewis (Private, Company K; killed in action)
  • Bower, Lewis (Private, Company A; died at a Confederate prison camp 1 March 1865)
  • Bower, Thomas J. (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Bridinger/Birdinger, Samuel E. (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Burger, William (Sergeant; Company K; suffered a compression of the brain after being struck in the head by shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell or musket ball; died at the Union Army’s Satterlee General Hospital in Philadelphia 5 November 1864)
  • Burke, Andrew (Private, Company E; initially reported as killed in action, was determined to have sustained gunshot wounds to the head and upper right arm; died from battle wound-related complications 23 December 1864 at the Union Army hospital at Frederick, Maryland)
  • Cope, Peter (Private, Company K; although the Union Army’s Registers of Deaths of Volunteer Soldiers stated that Private Peter Cope of K Company was killed in action during the Battle of Cedar Creek, historian Samuel P. Bates indicated that this soldier was discharged 22 June 1865 by General Order of the U.S. War Department)
  • Crawford, Daniel S. (Private, Company A; severely wounded in the right leg; discharged 31 May 1864 on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability, following earlier amputation of leg)
  • Darrohn, John A. (Corporal, Company B; wounded 4 October 1864 in the lead-up to the Battle of Cedar Creek; died from wound-related complications at the Union Army’s hospital at Winchester, Virginia 12 November 1864)
  • Detweiler, Charles (Private, Company A; wounded in action; died at a Union Army hospital in Philadelphia from battle wound-related complications 12 February 1865)
  • Egolf, John (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Eichman, William Henry (Corporal, Company E; wounded and captured by Confederate forces; held as a POW until his release 11 May 1865; discharged 1 June 1865 per General Order)
  • Fegely, Harrison (Private, Company K; wounded; transferred 17 January 1865 to Company E, 21st Regiment, 1st Battalion, Veteran Reserve Corps)
  • Fetherolf, David K. (1st Lieutenant, Company K; wounded; discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 17 November 1864; died at home 19 August 1865)
  • Foreman, Henry (Private, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Frack, Joseph (Private, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Fraunfelder, Levi (Private, Company A; captured and held at a Confederate POW camp until his release 1 February 1865)
  • Fry, William (1st Sergeant, Company C; captured and held as a POW at the notorious Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia; released 4 March 1865, but died at home due to disease-related complications 28 March 1865)
  • Gatence, Lawrence (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Geho, Addison Kaiser (Private, Company F; killed in action)
  • Geidner, Evan (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Geiger, Harrison (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Gildner/Guildner, Francis (Private, Company I; killed in action)
  • Given, Alexander (Private, Company C; wounded in the abdomen and/or the left knee joint; died from battle wound-related complications 1 December 1864 at the Union Army’s Jarvis General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland)
  • Goebel, John Joseph (Captain, Company G; sustained gunshot wound to his left hip which fractured the neck and head of his left femur; died from a battle wound-related complication – irritative fever – at the Union Army hospital at Winchester, Virginia 5 November 1864)
  • Golio, Reuben (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Grader, Rainey (Private, Company F; killed in action)
  • Grubb, Jacob C. (Private, Company C; sustained two gunshot wounds to his leg(s); died from battle wound-related complications at the Union Army hospital in Winchester, Virginia 9 November1864)
  • Haggerty, Peter Jacob (Private, Company E; captured and held as a POW at a Confederate prison camp until his release 1 March 1865; discharged by General Order 29 June 1865
  • Haltiman, Peter H. (Private, Company B; wounded; died at Baltimore, Maryland 20 November 1864 from battle wound-related complications – possibly paemia/septicemia)
  • Hahn, George (Corporal, Company E; wounded in action; survived)
  • Harper, Edward (Corporal, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Heenan, Michael (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Hochstetter, Jacob C. (Private, Company H; captured and held as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being transferred to the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he was held as a POW until his release)
  • Huff, James (Corporal, Company A; captured and held as POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from starvation 5 March 1865)
  • Jones, Harrison (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Klotz, Moses F. (Private, Company K; sustained fatal head wound in combat)
  • Knauss, Allen (Corporal, Company I; wounded; discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 7 September 1865)
  • Knauss, Charles Henry (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Kolb, Hiram (Private, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Kramer, Allen (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Kramer, Henry H. (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Kramer, Isaac (Private, Company C; wounded in action and captured by Confederate forces; held as a POW until his release; discharged on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 18 August 1865)
  • Koch, Ambrose (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Kunker, John (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Landis, William (Private, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Lasker, Julius (Private, Company G; killed in action)
  • Liddick I, John (Private, Company H; wounded; died from battle wound-related complications 8 November 1864 at a Union Army hospital in Baltimore, Maryland)
  • Lunken, John (Private, Company C; alternate surname spelling: “Sunker”; wounded in action in the nose; survived)
  • Lutz, James (Private, Company I; declared missing in action and supposed dead, then declared killed in action)
  • Martin, William (Private, Company I; wounded; survived)
  • Mayers, William H. (Sergeant, Company I; wounded; survived)
  • McCalla, Daniel (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • McIntire, John (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Menner, Edward (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Metcalf, Isaac (Private, Company F; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from disease-related complications 25 December 1864)
  • Michael, Charles H. (Private, Company F; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from starvation 11 December 1864)
  • Miller, Joseph (Private, Company A; captured and held at a Confederate POW camp until his release 12 April 1865)
  • Miller, Thomas (Corporal, Company B; wounded in action; died from battle wound-related complications at the Union Army hospital at Winchester, Virginia 25 October 1864)
  • Minnich, Edwin G. (Captain, Company B; killed in action)
  • Moll, William (Private, Company F; wounded; survived)
  • Moser, Franklin (Private, Company E; wounded; declared missing in action and supposed dead)
  • Moser, Owen (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Moyer I, William H. (Private, Company F; captured by Confederate forces during or after the Battle of Cedar Creek; died from starvation 22 January 1865 while being held as POW at the Confederate prison camp at Florence, South Carolina)
  • Newhard, Allen (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Ochs, Jacob (Private, Company E; wounded in the foot; discharged from Baltimore on a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability 19 June 1865)
  • Oyster, Daniel (Captain, Company C; sustained severe gunshot wound to right shoulder; survived)
  • Parks, Francis A. (Sergeant, Company E; killed in action)
  • Peterson, John (Private, Company E; wounded; survived)
  • Powell, Jr., Daniel (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Remaly, Samuel (Private, Company A; wounded in action; survived)
  • Repsher, Joseph (Private, Company B; wounded in action; survived)
  • Rhoads, Franklin (Private, Company B; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from disease-related complications 15 November 1864; buried in an unmarked trench grave 22 November 1864)
  • Rupley, John (Corporal, Company H; wounded; survived)
  • Sailor, Cyrus James (Private, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Sandt, Amandus (Corporal, Company A; shot in the hip; survived after being left to die by Confederate troops who had captured his brother, Edwin, who had stayed behind Union lines to care for him)
  • Sandt, Edwin (Private, Company A; narrowly avoided being shot thanks to a cartridge box which blocked a bullet’s path; captured behind Union lines by advancing Confederate forces while caring for his brother, Amandus, who had been shot in the hip; held initially as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being transferred to the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina; survived and returned to serve with regiment)
  • Scherer, August (Private, Company B; sustained gunshot wound to right thigh; died from battle wound-related complications at Newton University General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland 28 October 1864)
  • Schimpf, John (Private, Company B; killed in action)
  • Schlagle, Henry J. (Private, Company I; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from catarrh and starvation on 27 or 28 December 1864)
  • Schneck, Lewis (Private, Company K; killed in action)
  • Scott, Frederick J. (Corporal, Company E; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Danville, Virginia, where he died 23 February 1865)
  • Shaffer, Stephen (Private, Company H; captured and held as a POW at the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died 8 January 1865)
  • Shapley, Henry (Private, Company H; captured and held as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being transferred to the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died from starvation and harsh treatment 10 December 1864)
  • Shelley, Joseph (Private, Company H; killed in action)
  • Shiffin, Henry (Private, Company C; wounded in action; survived, and transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps February 1865)
  • Small, Jerome (Private, Company D; killed in action)
  • Smith, Joseph (Private, Company C; although Henry Wharton indicated this soldier was captured and held as a prisoner of war, other records show he was killed in action)
  • Smith, Joseph (Private, Company H; died from disease-related complications at a Union Army hospital near Cedar Creek, Virginia 11 November 1864)
  • Stephens, Joseph (Private, Company I; killed in action)
  • Strauss, James (Corporal, Company K; wounded; survived)
  • Stuart, Charles F. (Private, Company C; captured and held as a POW at a Confederate prison camp until his release 4 March 1865)
  • Swinehart, Peter (Private, Company C; wounded in the side; died from battle wound-related complications 1 December 1864)
  • Tagg, James (Private, Company D; wounded; survived)
  • Tice, James (Private, Company B; killed in action)
  • Walk, Josiah (Private, Company F; wounded; survived)
  • Werkheiser, Lewis (Private, Company A; killed in action)
  • Zellner, Benjamin F. (Private, Company K; shot in the leg and sustained bayonet wound; survived; also survived previous wounds sustained at the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, 9 April 1864, as well as his capture and confinement as a POW following that battle at both the Confederate prison camps at Tyler, Texas and Andersonville, Georgia)
  • Ziegler, Thomas (Private, Company I; sustained gunshot wound to the left leg; survived)

The Battle’s Impact on the Overall Prosecution of the War

Reporting on the battle two weeks later in its 5 November 1864 edition, Harper’s Weekly described Sheridan’s leadership in glowing terms:

PHIL SHERIDAN RIDING TO THE FRONT.

The victory gained at Cedar Creek that day [19 October 1864] surpassed in interest the victory gained precisely one month earlier at Winchester. It was a victory following upon the heels of apparent reverse, and therefore reflecting peculiar credit on the brave commander to whose timely arrival upon the field the final success of the day must be attributed.

The General was at Winchester in the early morning when the enemy attacked – fifteen miles distant from the field of operations. General Wright was in command. The enemy had approached under cover of a heavy fog, and flanking the extreme right of the Federal line, held by Crook’s Corps, and attacking in the centre [sic], had thrown the entire line into confusion, and driven it for several miles. The stragglers to the rear were fearfully numerous, and the enemy was pushing on, turning against the Federals a score of guns already captured from them.

This was the situation a little before noon when Sheridan came on the field, rising, says one of his staff, so that the devil himself could not have kept up. A staff-officer meeting him pronounced the situation of the army to be ‘awful.’

‘Pshaw,’ said Sheridan, ‘it’s nothing of the sort. It’s all right, or we’ll fix it right!’

Sheridan hastened to his cavalry on the extreme left. Galloping past the batteries,’ says the World correspondent, ‘to the extreme left of the line held by the cavalry, he rode to the front, took off his hat and waved it, while a cheer went up from the ranks not less hearty and enthusiastic than that which greeted him after the battle of Winchester. Generals rode out to meet him, officers waved their swords, men threw up their hats in an extremity of glee. General Custer, discovering Sheridan at the moment he arrived, rode up to him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek. Waiting for no other parley than simply to exchange greeting, and to say, ‘This retreat must be stopped!’ Sheridan broke loose and began galloping down the lines, along the whole front of the army. Every where [sic] the enthusiasm caused by his appearance was the same.’

The line was speedily reformed; provost marshals brought in stragglers by the scores; the retreating army turned its face to the foe. An attack just about to be made was repulsed, and the tide of battle turned. Then Sheridan’s time was come. A cavalry charge was ordered against right and left flank of the enemy, and then a grand advance of the three infantry corps from left to right on the Enemy’s centre [sic]. ‘On through Middletown,’ says the correspondent above quoted, ‘and beyond, the enemy hurried, and the Army of the Shenandoah pursued. The roar of musketry now had a gleeful, dancing sound. The guns fired shafted salutes of victory. Custer and Merritt, charging in on right and left, doubled up the flanks of the foe, taking prisoners, slashing, killing, driving as they went. The march of the infantry was more majestic and more terrible. The lines of the foe swayed and broke before it every where [sic]. Beyond Middletown, on the battle-field fought over in the morning, their columns were completely overthrown and disorganized [sic]. They fled along the pike and over the fields like sheep.’

Thus on through Strasburg with two brigades of cavalry at their heels. Two thousand prisoners were gathered together, though there was not a sufficient guard to send them all to the rear. The guns lost in the morning were recaptured, and as many more taken, making fifty in all, and, according to Sheridan’s report, the enemy reached Mount Jackson without an organized regiment.

The scene at Sheridan’s head-quarters at night after the battle was wildly exciting. ‘General Custer arrived about 9 o’clock. The first thing he did was to hug General Sheridan with all his might, lifting him in the air, whirling him around and around, with the shout: ‘By ___, we’ve cleaned them out and got the guns!’ Catching sight of General Torbert, Custer went through the same proceeding with him, until Torbert was forced to cry out: ‘There, there, old fellow, don’t capture me!’

Sheridan’s ride to the front, October 19, 1864 will go down in history as one of the most important and exciting events which have ever given interest to a battle scene; and to this event will be attributed the victory of the day. Says General Grant, ‘Turning what bid fair to be a disaster into a glorious victory stamps Sheridan what I have always thought him, one of the ablest of Generals.’

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were also later recognized for their service that costly but important day, commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” on 19 October 1864.

Fisher’s Hill, Virginia, c. 1892 (William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Co., U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

As Sheridan looked back on his 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign from the vantage point of his 1888 memoirs, he also described the aftermath of Cedar Creek post-battle:

Early’s broken army practically made no halt in its retreat after the battle of Cedar  Creek until it reached New Market, though at Fisher’s Hill was left a small rear-guard of cavalry, which hastily decamped, however, when charged by Gibbs’s brigade on the morning of the 20th. Between the date of his signal defeat and the 11th of November, the enemy’s scattered forces had sufficiently reorganized to permit his again making a reconnaissance in the valley as far north as Cedar Creek, my army having meanwhile withdrawn to Kernstown, where it had been finally decided that a defensive line should be held to enable me to detach troops to General Grant, and where, by reconstructing the Winchester and Potomac railroad from Stephenson’s depot to Harper’s Ferry, my command might be more readily supplied. Early’s reconnaissance north of Cedar Creek ended in a rapid withdrawal of his infantry after feeling my front, and with the usual ill-fortune to his cavalry; Merritt and Custer driving Rosser and Lomax with ease across Cedar Creek and on the Middle and Back roads, while Powell’s cavalry struck McCausland near Stony Point, and after capturing two pieces of artillery and about three hundred officers and men, chased him into the Luray Valley.

Early got back to New Market on the 14th of November, and, from lack of subsistence, being unable to continue demonstrations to prevent my reinforcement of General Grant, began himself to detach to General Lee by returning Kershaw’s division to Petersburg, as was definitely ascertained by Torbert in a reconnaissance to Mount Jackson. At this time General Grant wished me to send him the Sixth Corps … but when I informed him that … Early still retained four divisions of infantry and one of cavalry, it was decided, on my suggestion, to let the Sixth Corps remain till the season should be a little further advanced, which the inclemency of the weather would preclude infantry campaigning. These conditions came about early in December….

Ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers spent much of November and December trying to heal minds as well as bodies. Five days before Christmas of 1864, they trudged through a snowstorm in order to reach their new home – Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia – where they were assigned to outpost and railroad guard duties.

Attached to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah in February 1865, they then moved back to Washington, D.C. via Winchester and Kernstown, setting the stage once again for the 47th Pennsylvanians to play a role in one of the most pivotal moments in American history.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Battle of Cedar Creek, in CWSAC Battle Summaries. Washington, D.C.: Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (CWSAC), The American Battlefield Protection Program, retrieved online 1 September 2016.

3. Bluhm, Jr., Raymond K. Shenandoah Valley Campaign: March-November 1864. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army.

4. Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. New York, New York: C. L. Webster, 1885.

5. Irwin, Richard B. History of the Nineteenth Army Corps. New York, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892.

6. Mahon, Michael G. The Shenandoah Valley 1861-1865: The Destruction of the Granary of the Confederacy. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1999.

7. Phil Sheridan Riding to the Front. New York, New York: Harper’s Weekly, 5 November 1864.

8. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, in Records of the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office (Record Group 94). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1861-1865.

9. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

10. Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign, in Shenandoah at War. New Market, Virginia: Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, retrieved online 1 September 2016.

11. Sheridan, Philip Henry. Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army in Two Volumes, Vol. II. New York, New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1888.

12. Snyder, Laurie. From Louisiana to Virginia (1864): The Battle of Snicker’s Gap and Service with the Army of the Shenandoah, and Sheridan’s Tide-Turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The September Battles (Virginia, July-September 1864), in 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Retrieved online 10 September 2017.

13. The Battle of Cedar Creek, in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service, retrieved online 1 September 2017.

14. U.S. Civil War Veterans’, Widows’ and Orphans’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

15. Wert, Jeffry D. From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1997.

16. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1864.

17. Whitehorn, Joseph W. A. The Battle of Cedar Creek. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army, Center of Military History, 1992.

 

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