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had been sent to [Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal] Early, and this before any of our troops had been withdrawn.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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Sheridan’s Tide-Turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign: The September Battles (Virginia, July-September, 1864)

Shenandoah Valley from Maryland Heights (Alfred R. Waud, 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain). For Waud’s own description of this work, click here.

By 1864, Federal control of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was viewed as necessary to a Union victory because of the Valley’s configuration and its economic potential to the Confederate war effort. The Valley’s alignment from southwest to northeast made it an excellent Confederate avenue of approach, threatening Federal resources in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and of course, Washington, D.C., itself. The excellent road system, including the hard-surface Valley Pike (US 11), allowed rapid movement into vulnerable Federal areas…. The area had continued to produce a large portion of the food required by Lee’s army in eastern Virginia as well as that needed in other parts of the Confederacy. Unfettered access to the Valley put the produce of nearby parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania within Confederate reach as well. – Joseph Whitehorne, The Battle of Cedar Creek

 

Following Washington, D.C.’s close brush 11-12 July 1864 with Lieutenant-General Jubal Early’s advancing Confederate army, that army’s 30 July burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant’s consequent Summer 1864 shakeup of top military leaders, which included his appointment of Major-General Philip H. Sheridan as head of the U.S. Middle Military Division and its Army of the Shenandoah, the stage was set for the Civil War’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign – a series of battles which tipped the scales of victory sharply in favor of the Federal Government during the Fall of 1864, and ensured the reelection of Abraham Lincoln to his final, fatal term as President of the United States of America.

Among the players in this intense drama were Confederate army leaders described by historian Jeffry Wert as “some of the finest combat commanders in Virginia.” Their Union opponents were equally impressive. According to Wert:

Union authorities, finally, had brought to the Shenandoah Valley a command – in strength, leadership and combat prowess – worthy of the strategic value of the region. The Army of the Shenandoah exceeded, in numbers alone, any previous Union force in the Valley. Sheridan would begin the forthcoming campaign with nearly 35,000 infantry and artillery effectives and 8,000 cavalry. If the separate Military District of Harpers Ferry, commanded by Brigadier General John D. Stevenson, numbering nearly 5,000, were included, Sheridan had, at hand, approximately 48,000 troops. His Middle Military Division also embraced the nearly 29,000 troops in the Department of Washington, the 2,700 soldiers in the Department of the Susquehanna and the approximately 5,900 Federals in the Middle Department.

Even more striking was the Federal Government’s charge to those Union troops. On 5 August 1864, Grant wrote to Sheridan, urging:

In pushing up the Shenandoah Valley, where it is expected you will have to go first or last, it is desirable that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return. Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command; such as cannot be consumed, destroy. It is not desirable that the buildings should be destroyed – they should rather be protected; but the people should be informed that, so long as an army can subsist among them, recurrence of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them at all hazards.

Bear in mind, the object is to drive the enemy south…. Make your own arrangements for supplies of all kinds, giving regular vouchers for such as may be taken from loyal citizens in the country through which you march.

The day after Grant penned that directive – 6 August 1864 – the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry crossed over the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Still attached to Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th U.S. Army Corps (the corps to which they had been attached in Louisiana), the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were preceded and followed, respectively, by troops commanded by Brigadier-Generals George R. Crook and John B. Ricketts.

Note: On 7 July 1864, while stationed in New Orleans, the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry was temporarily separated into two detachments when the soldiers assigned to the regiment’s Companies B, G and K were ordered to remain behind in Louisiana to await transportation north following the end of the Union’s Red River Campaign while the men from Companies A, C, D, F, H, and I steamed aboard the McClellan for the Washington, D.C. area. That group of 47th infantrymen then had a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln at Fort Stevens (situated just outside of the nation’s capital) on 12 July, and joined in fighting in and around Snicker’s Gap, Virginia (also known as the Battle of Cool Spring) in mid-July under the command of Union Major-General David Hunter and Brigadier-General William Emory. Both detachments from the 47th Pennsylvania were ultimately reunited on 2 August at Monocacy, Virginia, and were then ordered on to Harper’s Ferry and Halltown, Virginia.

Halltown Ridge, looking west with “old ruin of 123 on left. Colored people’s shanty right,” where Union troops entrenched after Major-General Philip Sheridan took command of the Middle Military Division, 7 August 1864 (photo and caption: Thomas Dwight Biscoe, 2 August 1884, courtesy of Southern Methodist University).

Ordered to march next for Halltown, Virginia, the 47th Pennsylvanians were, upon arrival, assigned to defensive duties. Union Major-General David Hunter “took up his position covering Halltown and proceeded to strengthen its entrenchments,” according to historian Richard Irwin, while “Crook’s left rested on the Shenandoah, Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] extended the line to the turnpike road, and Wright carried it to the Potomac.”

According to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, as Sheridan was bolstering Union positions in Virginia, Lieutenant-General Jubal Early was reinforcing his Confederate positions with the Confederate States of America troops under his command:

Early deployed his forces to defend the approaches to Winchester, while Sheridan moved his army, now 50,000 strong, south via Berryville with the goal of cutting the Valley Turnpike. On August 11, Confederate cavalry and infantry turned back Union cavalry at Double Toll Gate in sporadic, day-long fighting, preventing this maneuver.

Robert E. Lee sent reinforcements under the overall command of Gen. Richard Anderson to join Early. On August 16, Union cavalry encountered this force advancing through Front Royal, and in a sharp engagement at Guard Hill, Gen. George A. Custer’s brigade captured more than 300 Confederates.

Sheridan had been ordered to move cautiously and avoid a defeat, particularly if Early were reinforced. Uncertain of Early’s and Anderson’s combined strength, Sheridan withdrew to a defensive line near Charles Town to cover the Potomac River crossings and Harpers Ferry. Early’s forces routed the Union rear guard at Abrams Creek at Winchester on August 17 and pressed north on the Valley Turnpike to Bunker Hill. Judging Sheridan’s performance thus far, General Early considered him a timid commander.

On August 21, Early and Anderson launched a converging attack against Sheridan. As Early struck the main body of Union infantry at Cameron’s Depot, Anderson moved north from Berryville against Sheridan’s cavalry at Summit Point. Results of the fighting were inconclusive, but Sheridan continued to withdraw. The next day, Early advanced boldly on Charles Town, panicking a portion of the retreating Union army, but by late afternoon, Sheridan had retreated into formidable entrenchments at Halltown, south of Harpers Ferry, where he was beyond attack.

Early then attempted another incursion into Maryland, hoping by this maneuver to maintain the initiative. On August 25, two divisions of Sheridan’s cavalry intercepted Early’s advance, but the Confederate infantry drove them back to the Potomac. Early’s intentions were revealed, however, and on August 26, Sheridan’s infantry attacked and overran a portion of the Confederate entrenchments at Halltown, forcing Anderson and Kershaw to withdraw to Stephenson’s Depot. Early abandoned his raid and returned south, establishing a defensive line on the west bank of Opequon Creek* from Bunker Hill to Stephenson’s Depot.

On August 29, Union cavalry forded the Opequon at Smithfield Crossing but were swiftly driven back across the creek by Confederate infantry. Union infantry of the VI Corps then advanced and regained the line of the Opequon. This was one more in a series of thrusts and parries that characterized this phase of the campaign, known to the soldiers as the “mimic war.”

Regimental records confirm back-and-forth movements by the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers during this “mimic war” with a fair degree of confusion regarding dates of departure and arrival at various camp sites. According to historian Lewis Schmidt, “On Wednesday [10 August], the regiment marched from Halltown, as Company K recorded it ‘left Halltown and marched to Middletown and back to Halltown and skirmished.’”  On the 11th, “the 47th left its bivouac near Berryville and marched to Middletown where it arrived the next day,” and remained there for several weeks before returning to Halltown where, according to Schmidt, “it arrived on August 20.”

The clerks from C Company, however, noted that the regiment left Middletown for Winchester, departing on Monday, 15 August and arriving the next day. By Wednesday, they then recorded the 47th as heading for Berryville.

In a letter home to the Sunbury American newspaper, 47th Pennsylvanian Henry D. Wharton provided a more detailed chronology, while also offering vital insights into what life was like for Virginians trapped between opposing armies – and what it had been like for members of his regiment who had been held as prisoners of war (POWs):

20 August 1864
Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
CAMP NEAR CHARLESTON, VA.   }
August 20, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT : –

Since I wrote to you last, we have had weary marches and travelled many miles after the Johnnies, but as yet have not met them in a regular battle. Since the 10th of this month, Gen. Sheridan has done his best to catch and whip the rebels, but their fleetness and the peculiarity of the country, in the way of mountains and gaps, is such that he is now no nearer that object than when our march commenced. Our cavalry drove the reel videttes often while on our march towards Winchester, and every day, in skirmishes, compelled the graybacks to run for safety. Early was forced to retreat to the mountains beyond Strasburg, where he threw up intrenchments [sic], hoping to draw our army into a trap, but our commander knowing the position he held, and the almost impossibility of driving the enemy from the gap, did not advance further than Cedar creek with the main army, and then sent the cavalry to commence operations, by trying to draw him out into an open field and fair fight. This they accomplished on last Tuesday [16 August] having as Gen. Sheridan reports ‘a brilliant affair,’ in which the rebels lost severely in killed, wounded and prisoners. In this fight the rebs crossed a stream and made a charge; they were repulsed and in recrossing, besides the killed, many were taken prisoners, the cavalry boys saying ‘come back, or we will shoot. This command was readily obeyed, the Johnnies thinking like Capt. Scott’s coon, ‘not to shoot and they would knock under.’ The enemy were forced back to Front Royal, when they were reinforced by two Divisions of Longstreet’s corps, from Richmond. Our force then fell back to the creek, when a sharp artillery duel came off. Not making anything out of this, Sheridan fell further back, trying to coax the enemy from his earthenworks and the stronghold of the mountain. This, the Confed leaders would not accept, so Sheridan moved part of his forces back to Winchester, then to Berryville, keeping, however, his army so fixed that there could be no danger of surprise, and finally to this camp, two miles from Charlestown, where every preparation is made for a fight, and the great wish now is that the rebel horde will make their appearance in force, so that the strife may end in the valley, and that we may so effectually use them up that there will be an end to the raids into Pennsylvania and Maryland.

On our route from Berryville to Middletown, we passed a farm house, on the porch of which, were three gaily dressed young ladies. They laughed and chatted with the boys, offering them water, and made themselves generally agreeable. Not suspecting anything wrong, the most of our corps passed by, when a little brother allowed ‘there was some soldiers in the house.’ The Provost Marshal thought it advisable to examine the premises, and by so doing found concealed under beds, three rebel officers and seven privates. These gentlemen were at work threshing grain, and our skirmishers coming on them so quickly they could not get away, so they sought the house for shelter thinking by this ruse of the young ladies donning their ‘best bib and tucker,’ they could elude the vigilance of the Yanks and escape. They were mistaken and ere you get this, these chivalrous gentlemen will be in durance vile, guarded by Uncle Abe’s pets.

Charlestown is not the place it was three years ago, when we were encamped there as three months men. Then business was brisk, stores filled with goods and open to purchasers, the streets crowded with men, and the open windows showed the faces of many beautiful women, some of whom wore smiles and appeared happy, while others played the part of the virago and spat at our boys as they passed on the side walk. Now misery and want are visible, stores closed, signs displaced, streets deserted, buildings burned and everything indicates that these once happy people, what are left, are brought to poverty, if not starvation. Winchester has been a right smart place, having all the modern improvements, such as gas, water works, &c. The buildings are really fine and the streets well paved. It is situated in a splendid valley and must have been a place of considerable business. But like its sister, Charlestown, war and battle has had effect on it; and now it is but a ‘deserted village.’

A cavalry train was attacked at Berrysville [sic], a few days ago, by Moseby’s [sic] men, just as they were coming out of the park. The guard (hundred day men) were surprised and fled, leaving arms, &c., in the confusion. The wagons, about fifty, were burned and two hundred mules captured. A scouting of cavalry hearing the firing, immediately started to the rescue, and arrived in time only to give chase to the guerrillas who were notified of the whereabouts of the train by a citizen; who, for his part was hung as a spy. This spy made a speech acknowledging his guilt, giving his reasons for the act, and then most pittifully [sic] begged for his life. It was all of no avail, for the facts were so positive that hesitance to carry out the sentence would have been criminal. He had been under arrest twice before, but managed to escape. This time he was caught in citizens [sic] dress, having been but a short time before seen a rebel uniform, in fact, about the time the train was attacked. Papers were found on him addressed to Longstreet, giving a particular account of our forces, the amount of infantry, artillery and cavalry, and, besides, he was identified by an Adjutant, whom he, the spy, had stood guard over while he was in Libby prison. He had the spiritual advice of three Chaplains, and was baptized shortly before his execution.

Several promotions have been made lately in the 47th Pa.Vols., the most prominent of which is Capt. J. P. S. Gobin, to that of Major. This appointment is well deserved and is the unanimous choice of the Regiment. The members of Co. C., for their own good, are opposed to losing their Captain; but for his advancement are well pleased, and consider what is their loss is gain to the regiment.

The members of Co. C., that were taken prisoners in the battle on the Red river, have been paroled or exchanged, with the exception of John C. Sterner, and are now at their homes on furlough or in hospitals at New Orleans. While at Tyler, Texas, [Camp Ford] they were vaccinated or innoculated [sic], with impure matter which impregnated their blood and now they are afflicted with ulcerated limbs and sore eyes. The fiends, pretending to give these men a preventive for small pox, filled their systems with a loathsome disease that will cling through life. Is not this an inhuman act? Samuel Miller is in the hospital at New Orleans.

An attack is hourly expected. Our forces are in position ready to receive the enemy. If a battle comes off, and I am lucky, I will send you particulars. The boys are well. With respects to all in the office, yourself and friends, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H.D.W.

“On Wednesday [31 August], correspondence and a regimental return indicated the 47th was located near Charlestown,” according to Schmidt, and “the 47th was paid this date by a Major Eaton. Various members of the band were paid by the 47th’s Council of Administration effective through this date, generally for a three to four month period. The men and accounts are as follows: Anthony B. Bush, $157.50; Eugene Walters [sic] and John Rupp, each $100; David Gackenback [sic], $52.50 Henry Kern and George Frederick, each $60; Henry Tool [sic], $30; and Lewis Sponheimer, Harrison Handwerk, Edwin Dreisbach, Daniel Dachradt [sic] and William Heckman, each $16.”

A Busy First Week of September – The Battle of Berryville, Virginia

During the opening days of September 1864, the sparring between Union and Confederate forces continued, and the regimental command of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers was reshuffled yet again.

Among those moving up the ranks on 1 September 1864 were regimental Sergeant Major William M. Hendricks, who advanced to 1st Lieutenant with the regiment’s central command staff; E Company Private Washington Scott Johnston, who was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant and transferred to the regiment’s central command staff; B Company’s Charles H. Martin, who advanced from Private to Sergeant Major; C Company 1st Lieutenant Daniel Oyster, who was commissioned as Captain, and placed in command of his unit; C Company’s 1st Sergeant Christian S. Beard, Sergeant William Fry, Corporal John Bartlow, and Private Timothy Matthias Snyder who advanced, respectively, to the ranks of 2nd Lieutenant, 1st Sergeant, Sergeant, and Corporal; and F Company’s 1st Sergeant William Hiram Bartholomew, who was advanced to the rank of 1st Lieutenant within his unit.

“Personnel records for the period” also showed that “many members of the regiment were due the 4th installment of their $402 bounty,” according to Schmidt:

The records of Privates Tilghman Ritz and Lewis Seip of Company B include, ‘due $6 increased pay for months of May-June’ as the pay rates for Privates were increased from $13 to $16 per month; records of Pvt. Charles Schaeffer of Company E list ‘stoppage for trans $10.80’; remarks in the records of Pvt. Christian Smith of Company G include ‘C.P.M.G.O. due $6 increased pay for May-June’; and Pvt. Daniel Kochendorfer of Company H ‘1st install bounty due $50’….

“Berryville from the West. Blue Ridge on the Horizon,” according to T. D. Biscoe, who photographed the Berryville Pike on 1 August 1884 – two decades after the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in this vicinity (photo courtesy of Southern Methodist University).

Marching from Halltown during the opening days of September 1864, Sheridan’s troops arrived at Berryville on Saturday, 3 September. Meanwhile, that same day according to Schmidt, the 47th Pennsylvania’s “Company I reported that it [also had] left camp near Charlestown and marched to Berryville.”

Before they could even put their tents in place, however, a portion of Sheridan’s troops were forced to repel an attack by Major-General Joseph B. Kershaw’s division of Confederate States of America troops on a Union grouping led by Brigadier-General George Crook. Motivated by CSA Lieutenant-General Early’s orders to move additional Confederate troops into the area, the attack was led by CSA Major-General Richard H. Anderson. According to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation:

On September 2-3, Averell’s cavalry division rode south from Martinsburg and struck the Confederate left flank at Bunker Hill, defeating the Confederate cavalry but being driven back by infantry. Meanwhile, Sheridan concentrated his infantry near Berryville. On the afternoon of September 3, Anderson’s command encountered and attacked elements of Crook’s corps (Army of West Virginia) at Berryville but was repulsed. Early brought his entire army up on the 4th, but found Sheridan’s position at Berryville too strongly entrenched to attack. Early again withdrew to the Opequon line.

On 5 September 1864, Captain Daniel Oyster of the 47th Pennsylvania was wounded in action in the left shoulder in a post-battle skirmish. Two days later, C Company scribe Wharton provided the following details about the Battle of Berryville and its aftermath:

7 September 1864
Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
NEAR BERRYVILLE, VA.,    }
September 7, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

For several days after the army had advanced up this valley, the men were busily engaged in building intrenchments [sic] and fortifying their position, two miles west of Charlestown. During the entire night and the whole next day were the boys at work with the shovel and pick, carrying rails, &c., building breastworks for the protection of the regiment, and scarcely was the job finished, the bright spade put aside, when ‘fall in’ was heard, and the 47th was moved to another place to build other earthworks. – This they done [sic] cheerfully, knowing the work was necessary; and that it was for their own protection. The position held by our army, at that point, was excellent, and so well arranged was [sic] our defences, that an attack made on us by the enemy would have been disastrous to him, and added another list to the name of Union victories. The enemy knew this, and after finding out Sheridan’s strength fell back towards Winchester, keeping his head quarters [sic] at Bunker Hill. Our forces on last Saturday morning [3 September], then broke up camp, following them to within one mile of this place, where we found signs of the Johnnies. The 8th corps, Gen. Crooks [sic], commanding, was, in the advance who rested in line of battle, with arms stacked, for a couple of hours, while pickets were being posted. After the pickets had been established this command went into camp, and had just finished pitching their tents, which was about four o’clock P.M., when heavy skirmishing was heard on the picket line. The whole command was rapidly turned out and formed, and moved to the support of the pickets, who had been driven from behind some intrenchments [sic], which they had occupied.

From the correspondent of the Baltimore American, I learn the following facts of the fight:

The 36th Ohio and 9th Virginia were formed, and charged the enemy, driving then out of the entrenchments. A desperate struggle now ensued, the rebels being determined, if possible, to regain possession of these entrenchments. With this object in view they massed full two divisions of their command and hurled them with their accustomed ferocity against our gallant little band, who were supported by both Thoburn’s and Duvall’s division. They were handsomely repulsed every time they changed, the conflict lasting long after the sun had sent, and artillery firing being kept up until 9 o’clock.

Our loss was about three hundred killed and wounded that of the enemy, from good information, was at least one-third greater, besides fifty prisoners and a stand of colors.

While the fight was going on, the 6th and 19th corps were pushed forward and took up several lines, but not being needed, did not share in the punishment given the rebels. On the next day, Sabbata [sic], the pickets had hard work and done a great deal of firing with the enemy. A member of Company C., to which I belong, told me he fired fifty-three rounds at them. What punishment was inflicted I cannot tell you, on the part of the Johnies sic], but to our men, I know it was small; two men of the 47th wounded by the same ball, and they slightly.

On Monday [5 September] the 47th was out on a reconnoisance [sic]. Four companies were in advance as skirmishers, who soon were received by a shower of bullets from the graybacks. This did not, in the least deter them, for they gave as good as they got, and with the regiment pushed on driving the enemy before them. The main portion of the regiment dare not fire, for if they did, the shooting of our own men who have been the consequence, so they stood the whizzing of bullets about their ears, as well as could be expected, under the circumstances. In this work two members of Co., C., were wounded. David Sloan, flesh wound in right arm from a minnie ball, and Benjamin McKillips in right hand. These wounds are slight, but at the present time somewhat painful, not so much so, however, as to prevent them enjoying that great luxury of a soldier – sleep. Capt. Oyster was struck by a ball, staggering him, but otherwise doing no injury. In his being hit there is a circumstance connected, that I cannot help but giving you, even you may put it down as a fish story, though for the truth the whole company will vouch. The ball struck him on the back of his shoulder, made a hole in his vest and shirt and none in the coat. Two members of Co. K., were wounded – one of them has since died.

The whole army have [sic] been busily engaged in digging intrenchments [sic], and throwing up breastworks, and now occupy a very strong position. Whether there will be an engagement here, or what the movements are to be, I can form no opinion, for if there was a General ever kept his thoughts, Sheridan is the one, and it is an impossibility to find out anything until it is completed. For material to write on, one is continued to his own Brigade, and there is so much sameness in that, that it would be but a repetition to send it to you. If I were to take down the ‘thousand and one’ rumors that daily come into camp, I could fill columns of the American, weekly, but as I prefer facts, I hope you will be satisfied if I send you news semi-occasionally.

I wrote to you a few days ago of the promotions in Company C, but for fear they did not reach you, I send them again: Daniel Oyster, Captain; William M. Hendricks, 1st Lieutenant; and Christian S. Beard, 2nd Lieutenant. They are well liked, and in their new positions give satisfaction. With the exception of the wounded, the boys are well, perfectly contented with their lot, only that they have a great hankering for the greenbacks that is [sic] due to them. Those, it is said, will be forthcoming in a few days. With respects to yourself, family and old friends, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H.
D. W.

* Note: According to reports by the regiment, as well as members of the 29th Maine Volunteers, the 47th Pennsylvania incurred a total of eight casualties – seven who were wounded (including Private David Sloan of C Company), and one – Private George Kilmore, of K Company, who died the same day of the battle (5 September) from the gunshot wound to his abdomen. When he started the day, he had had just two weeks left to serve on his three-year service term.

With respect to Captain Oyster’s gunshot wound (usually noted on Civil War medical records as Vulnus Sclopet), Wharton was somewhat off in his assessment. Oyster required medical attention after being struck in the left shoulder and, although he recuperated and returned to lead his unit once again before the month was out, that shoulder wound and another suffered later prompted him to seek less strenuous employment after the war.

Winchester, Virginia (c. 1862, U.S. Army, public domain).

Records completed by Company B personnel immediately after the Battle of Berryville documented the 47th Pennsylvania’s continued skirmishes with the enemy – this time at Winchester on Wednesday, 7 September. According to Schmidt, around this same time, “Regimental Order #58, at camp near Berryville, detailed five men to daily duty with the ambulance corps. They were to report to Surgeon John Homans,” who “was not with the 47th.” Three days later, an additional five men were shifted to the ambulance corps via Regimental Order No. 59.

On 11 September, a Sunday, additional personnel changes were made when F Company’s 2nd Lieutenant Augustus Eagle resigned his commission, and Private Benjamin F. Bush was promoted to the rank of Corporal – and then, within a week, to Sergeant.

The grueling marches by the regiment in hot weather and continued close living in frequently unsanitary conditions also continued to thin the 47th’s ranks as men were felled by everything from dysentery to sunstroke. On 15 September, B Company Private Jacob Apple died from apoplexy at the 47th Pennsylvania’s regimental hospital at Berryville, Virginia; his death was certified by the 47th’s Assistant Surgeon, William F. Reiber, M.D.

Also during this time, according to Schmidt, regimental founder and commanding officer Colonel Tilghman H. Good began sending multiple letters from his headquarters near Berryville, Virginia to his superiors in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, requesting promotions for additional members of the 47th Pennsylvania not only as a reward for the dedication and valor his men had repeatedly displayed in combat, but because of the planned departures by more than two hundred members of the regiment (the equivalent of more than two full companies) upon the 18 September 1864 expiration of their respective terms of service. Among those scheduled to depart were: Colonel Good and his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George Warren Alexander, on 23-24 September, as well as these men from:

  • Regimental Command: Regimental Surgeon and Assistant Surgeon, Elisha W. Baily, M.D. and Jacob H. Scheetz, M.D. (23 September 1864);
  • Regimental Band: Bandmaster and A Company Private Anton B. Bush (via a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability), and Musician and G Company Private Frederick L. Jacobs;
  • Company A: Captain Richard A. Graeffe, 1st Lieutenant James F. Meyers, Sergeant Bernard Brahler, Corporal Frederick Kageley, Private John Alder (teamster), and Privates Daniel Battaglia, William Borman, Samuel Danner, Lewis Gebhart, John Hawk, Joseph Kline, Mahlon and Owen Laub, Moritz Lazius, Peter Lewis, Frederick E. Meyers, Stephen I. Schmidt, Fred Sheniger, Andrew Thoman, Joseph A. Tice, Stephen Walter, and Charles Weidnecht;
  • Company B: Captain Emmanuel (E. P.) Rhoads, 2nd Lieutenant Allen G. Balliet, Private Henry A. Haltiman (who later re-enlisted with the regiment), Sergeant Oliver Hiskey, and Privates Henry Bergenstock, Alexander Blumer, Frederick Bohlen, Ephraim Clader, Edward Denhard, Peter Ferber, William Gangwere, Levi Knerr, Levi Martin, Luther Mennig, Casper Schreiner, Aaron Serfass, Charles W. Siegfeld, Charles Trexler, Christian Ungerer, William J. Weiss, Harrison and William Wieand, Abraham N. Wolf, and Franklin Young;
  • Company C: Privates David S. Beidler, R. W. Druckemiller, Charles Harp, Conrad P. Holman, David W. and Isaac Kemble, George Miller, William Pfeil, William Plant, Alexander M. Ruffaner, Christian Schall, Isaac Snyder, Ephraim Thatcher, James and Samuel Whistler, Theodore Woodbridge, and Henry W. Wolf;
  • Company D: Captain Henry Durant Woodruff, 1st Lieutenant Samuel S. Auchmuty, Sergeants Henry Heikel and Alexander David Wilson, Corporals Samuel A. M. Reed and Cornelius Stewart Baskins, and Privates George A. Berrier, Jacob Charles, William Collins, William Henry Coulter, George Washington Dill, George Washington Jury, Hugh O’Neil, George H. Rigler, William Sheaffer, William D. Stites, Wilson Tagg, and John Wantz;
  • Company E: Captain Charles Hickman Yard, 1st Lieutenant Lawrence Bonstine, 2nd Lieutenant William H. Wyker, Sergeants Owen H. Weida and William R. Cahill, Corporal Thomas Lowery, Field Musician William Wilhelm (drummer boy), Privates John Bruch, Andrew Bucher, John Callahan, Jeremiah Cooper, Charles Dewey, John Dingler, William Ditterline, Henry Duffin, Adam P. Heckman, Samuel T. Hudson, Abraham Jacobus, William M. James, George W. Lantz, Henry Miller, Granville Moore, Richard Shelling, George W. Snyder, Joseph A. Tice, John Tidaboch, Theodore Troxell, and George Vogel;
  • Company F: Captain Henry Samuel Harte, Sergeants William H. Glace, John W. Heberling, Albert H. McHose, Corporal James E. Patterson, Field Musician David Tombler, Privates David Andrews, Abraham Bander, Faustin Boyer, Augustus Engle, Orlando Fuller, Joseph Geiger, Thomas B. Glick, John F. Haldeman, Joseph Heckman, Osman Houser, Henry Hummel, William Jordan, Owen Kern, George King, Nicholas Kuhn, William Kuntz, Joel Laudenschlager, Peter S. Levan, John Lucky, Albert J. Newhard, William Offhouse, Thomas B. Rhoads, Francis Roth, Llewellyn J. Schleppy, Gottlieb Schrum, Robert M. Sheats, Nicholas Smith, James Allen Trexler, John P. Weaver, and Gilbert Whiteman;
  • Company G: 1st Sergeant D. K. Diefenderfer, Corporals Solomon Becker, Horatio Nelson Coffin, Reily M. Fornwald, William Hausler, and Allen Wolf, Field Musician William N. Smith, Privates Jacob H. Bowman, Lewis Dennis, Timothy Donahue, Ferdinand Fisher, Preston B. Good, Cornelius Heist, George T. Henry, Franklin Hoffert, Lewis Keiper, George Knauss, Orlando G. Miller, Barney Montague, George Reber, Francis Schmetzer, Frederick Weisbach, and Engelbert Zander;
  • Company H: Captain James Kacy; Sergeants James F. Naylor, Robert H. Nelson and John P. Rupley, Corporal, John Kitner, Field Musician Allen McCabe, Privates Augustus Bupp, John A. Durham, Thomas J. Haney, Isaac P. Henderson, Michael Horting, William C. Hutcheson, Adam, Louden, Walter C. Miller, Samuel M. Raudibaugh, David Thompson, Benjamin Thornton, and George W. Zinn;
  • Company I: 2nd Lieutenant James Stuber, Corporals Francis S. Daeufer, John William Henry Diehl, Tilghman W. Fatzinger, Henry Miller and Daniel H. Nunnemacher, Privates Theodore Baker, Willoughby Fenstermaker, Allen P. Gilbert, Charles Gross, William F. Henry, Charles Kaucher, Edwin H. Keiper, Xaver Kraff, Ogdon Lewis, Peter Lynd, Aaron McHose, Gottlieb Schweitzer, William Smith, John L. Transue, John Troxell, Daniel Vansickle, Samuel W. Weirbach, Henry W. Wieser, and Nathaniel Xander; and
  • Company K: Sergeants Peter Reinmiller and Conrad J. Volkenand, Corporals Lewis Benner, and George Knuck, Privates Valentine Amend, Martin Bornschier, Charles B. Fisher, Charles Heiney, Jacob Kingsley, John Koldhoff, Anthony Krauss, Samuel Madder, John Schimpf, John Scholl, and Christopher Ulrich.

Despite his expired term of service, Colonel Good remained in Virginia through September, helping to train and advise the replacement leaders of his regiment until finally opting in October 1864 to return home to the Keystone State. Meanwhile, as this loss of “institutional memory” from the Union was taking place, Confederate troops were on the move again. Per Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation records:

On September 15, Anderson left the Winchester area to return to Lee’s army and by the 18th had reached the Virginia Piedmont. Early spread out his remaining divisions from Winchester to Martinsburg, where he once more cut the B&O Railroad. When Sheridan learned of Anderson’s departure and the raid on Martinsburg, he determined to attack at once while the Confederate army was scattered….

By Saturday, 17 September 1864, Early had positioned his Confederate troops in a looming line from Winchester to Martinsburg, and the Opequon Creek was just two days away from becoming more than an obscure squiggly line on the future road maps of Virginia.

The Battle of Opequan* Begins

Major-General Philip Sheridan, U.S. Army (c. 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

As rifles and cannon cooled following the Battle of Berryville, troops on both sides of the conflict tended to their wounded at the end of the first week of September 1864 while their respective commanding officers resumed their strategic planning. According to Union Major-General Philip H. Sheridan:

Word to the effect that some of [Confederate Lieutenant-General] Early’s troops were under orders to return to Petersburg, and would start back at the first favorable opportunity, had been communicated to me already from many sources, but we had not been able to ascertain the date for their departure. Now that they had actually started, I decided to wait before offering battle until Kershaw had gone so far as to preclude his return, feeling confident that my prudence would be justified by the improved chances of victory; and then, besides, Mr. Stanton kept reminding me that positive success was necessary to counteract the political dissatisfaction existing in some of the Northern States. This course was advised and approved by General Grant, but even with his powerful backing it was difficult to resist the persistent pressure of those whose judgment, warped by their interests in the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, was often confused and misled by stories of scouts (sent out from Washington), averring that Kershaw and Fitzhugh Lee had returned to Petersburg, Breckenridge to southwestern Virginia, and at one time even maintaining that Early’s whole army was east of the Blue Ridge, and its commander himself at Gordonsville.

During the activity prevailing in my army … the infantry was quiet, with the exception of Getty’s division, which made a reconnaissance to the Opequon, and developed a heavy force of the enemy at Edwards’s Corners. The cavalry, however, was employed a good deal … skirmishing – heavily at times – to maintain a space about six miles in width between the hostile lines, for I wished to control this ground so that when I was released from the instructions of August 12 I could move my men into position for attack without the knowledge of Early….

It was the evening of the 16th of September that I received from Miss Wright* positive information that Kershaw was in march toward Front Royal on his way by Chester Gap to Richmond. Concluding that this was my opportunity, I at once resolved to throw my whole force into Newtown the next day, but a despatch [sic] from General Grant directing me to meet him at Charlestown … caused me to defer action until I should see him. In our resulting interview … I went over the situation very thoroughly, and pointed out with so much confidence the chances of a complete victory should I throw my army across the Valley pike near Newtown that he fell in with the plan at once, authorized me to renew the offensive, and to attack Early as soon as I deemed it most propitious to do so; and although before leaving City Point he had outlined certain operations for my army, yet he neither discussed nor disclosed his plans, my knowledge of the situation striking him as being so much more accurate than his own.

* NoteThe Battle of Opequan is also often referred to as “Third Winchester” or the “Battle of Winchester.” Spelling variants of “Opequan” and “Opequon” are used throughout this article and the website for 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story because battle reports penned by Union and Confederate commanders frequently presented the creek and battle name as “Opequan” while the spelling employed by the publishers of the various memoirs penned by Union Army leaders following the war was “Opequon.” (The spelling used by present-day Virginians is also “Opequon.”)

As the Battle of Opequan began, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was led by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, and attached to the U.S. Army’s 19th Corps commanded by Brigadier-General William H. Emory – as part of that corps’ 2nd Brigade, which was led by Brigadier-General James W. McMillan. This brigade also included the 12th Connecticut, 160th New York, and 8th Vermont volunteer armies.

Per his Personal Memoirs penned in 1888, former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant recalled that, as General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army in 1864, he set off for Virginia on 15 September to offer guidance to Major-General Philip H. Sheridan:

My purpose was to have him attack Early, or drive him out of the valley and destroy that source of supplies for Lee’s army. I knew it was impossible for me to get orders through Washington to Sheridan to make a move, because they would be stopped there and such orders as Halleck’s caution (and that of the Secretary of War) … would be given instead, and would, no doubt, be contradictory to mine. I therefore, without stopping at Washington, went directly through to Charlestown, some ten miles above Harpers Ferry, and waited there to see General Sheridan, having sent a courier in advance to inform him where to meet me.

When Sheridan arrived I asked him if he had a map showing the positions of his army and that of the enemy. He at once drew one out of his side pocket, showing all roads and streams, and the camps of the two armies. He said that if he had permission he would move so and so (pointing out how) against the Confederates, and that he could ‘whip them.’ Before starting I had drawn up a plan of campaign for Sheridan, which I had brought with me; but, seeing that he was so clear and so positive in his views and so confident of success, I said nothing about this and did not take it out of my pocket.

Sheridan’s wagon trains were kept at Harper’s Ferry, where all of his stores were. By keeping the teams at that place, their forage did not have to be hauled to them. As supplies of ammunition, provisions and rations for the men were wanted, trains would be made up to deliver the stores to the commissaries and quartermasters encamped at Winchester. Knowing that he, in making preparations to move at a given day, would have to bring up wagon trains from Harpers’ Ferry, I asked him if he could be ready to get off by the following Tuesday. This was on Friday. ‘O yes,’ he said, he ‘could be off before daylight on Monday.’ I told him then to make the attack at that time and according to his own plan; and I immediately started to return to the army about Richmond. After visiting Baltimore and Burlington, New Jersey, I arrived at City Point on the 19th.

Regarding Sheridan’s aforementioned comments regarding “Miss Wright,” Rebecca McPherson Wright was a Quaker who taught at a private school in Winchester, Virginia during the early years of the Civil War. Described by Sheridan in his 1888 memoir as “faithful and loyal to the Government,” she risked her life to covertly provide accurate, critically important information to Union military leaders regarding the location, number and fitness of Confederate troops in the vicinity of Winchester, and was later rewarded with a position with the U.S. Treasury Department in recognition of her fidelity and valor.

Following his meeting with Grant, Sheridan returned to his headquarters in order to begin moving his troops “toward Newtown,” but halted those preparations upon notification that members of Early’s infantry were marching on Martinsburg:

This considerably altered the states of affairs, and I now decided to change my plan and attack at once the two divisions remaining about Winchester and Stephenson’s depot, and later, the two sent to Martinsburg; the disjointed state of the enemy giving me the opportunity to take him in detail, unless the Martinsburg column should be returned by forced marches.

While General Early was in the telegraph office at Martinsburg on the morning of the 18th, he learned of Grant’s visit to me; and anticipating activity by reason of this circumstance, he promptly proceeded to withdraw so as to get the two divisions within supporting distance of Ramseur’s, which lay across the Berryville pike about two miles east of Winchester, between Abraham’s Creek and Red Bun Run, so by the night of the 18th Wharton’s division, under Breckenridge, was at Stephenson’s depot, Rodes near there, and Gordon’s at Bunker Hill. At daylight of the 19th these positions of the Confederate infantry still obtained, with the cavalry of Lomax, Jackson, and Johnson on the right of Ramseur, while to the left and rear of the enemy’s general line was Fitzhugh Lee, covering from Stephenson’s depot west across the Valley pike to Apple-pie Ridge.

Opequon Crossing, c. 1930s (courtesy of Southern Methodist University).

The Opequon Creek “flow[ed] at the foot of a broad and thickly wooded gorge, with high and steep banks” during September of 1864, according to historian Richard B. Irwin. Travelers along the roughly three-mile route to Winchester on the Berryville Road would move from ravine “to the level of rolling plain,” encountering “high ground … covered with large oaks, pines and undergrowth,” which was “intersected by many brooks,” the largest of which was the Red Bud Run, and “a still larger stream, called Abraham’s Creek,” which “after pursuing a nearly parallel course on the south side of the defile, crosses the road not far from the ford” before emptying into the Opequon.

The Union cavalry had maintained control of the six miles east of the Opequan, and at 2 AM Monday, the 19th, Sheridan set his forces in motion. The route was through Berryville, across the Opequan and on to Winchester. The 6th Corps led off, followed by its wagon train, then the 19th Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania], and finally the Army of West Virginia bringing up the rear. Unfortunately, east of the Opequan, the 6th and 19th Corps became entangled, and the 19th Corps halted to let the 6th Corps pass, hopelessly stringing out the Union troops which were separated by the wagon train. Eventually the 19th Corps moved into the woods on either side of the road and managed to get by the train, but it took six hours to travel the 3 miles in crossing the Opequan, and form a line of battle between the creek and Winchester at 11:40 a.m. This same confusion along the route of the march, caused the artillery to be delayed. As a result, the Confederate forces of Gen. Early had time to reach and consolidate in preparation for the impending engagement.

Sheridan, recalled a later departure time, noting:

My army moved at 3 o’clock that morning. The plan was for Torbert to advance with Merritt’s division of cavalry from Summit Point, carry the crossings of the Opequon at Stevens’s and Lock’s fords, and form a junction near Stephenson’s depot, with Averell, who was to move south from Darksville by the Valley pike. Meanwhile, Wilson was to strike up the Berryville pike, carry the Berryville crossing of the Opequon, charge through the gorge or cañon on the road west of the stream, and occupy the open ground at the head of this defile. Wilson’s attack was to be supported by the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, which were ordered to the Berryville crossing, and as the cavalry gained the open ground beyond the open gorge, the two infantry corps, under command of General Wright, were expected to press on after and occupy Wilson’s ground, who was then to shift to the south bank of Abraham’s creek and cover my left; Crook’s two divisions, having to march from Summit Point, were to follow the Sixth and Nineteenth corps to the Opequon, and should they arrive before the action began, they were to be held in reserve till the proper moment came, and then, as a turning-column, be thrown over toward the Valley pike, south of Winchester.”

Battle of Opequan (aka Third Winchester), Virginia, 19 September 1864 (public domain).

By dawn on 19 September, the brigade from Wilson’s division headed by McIntosh had succeeded in compelling Confederate pickets to flee their Berryville positions with “Wilson following rapidly through the gorge with the rest of the division, debouched from its western extremity with such suddenness as to capture as to capture a small earthwork in front of General Ramseur’s main line.” Although “the Confederate infantry, on recovering from its astonishment, tried hard to dislodge them,” they were unable to do so, according to Sheridan. Wilson’s Union troops were then reinforced by the U.S. 6th Army.

I followed Wilson to select the ground on which to form the infantry. The Sixth Corps began to arrive about 8 o’clock, and taking up the line Wilson had been holding, just beyond the head of the narrow ravine, the cavalry was transferred to the south side of Abraham’s Creek.

The Confederate line lay along some elevated ground about two miles east of Winchester, and extended from Abraham’s Creek north across the Berryville pike, the left being hidden in the heavy timber on Red Bud Run. Between this line and mine, especially on my right, clumps of woods and patches of underbrush occurred here and there, but the undulating ground consisted mainly of open fields, many of which were covered with standing corn that had already ripened.

“The 6th Corps formed across the Berryville Road” while the “19th Corps prolonged the line to the Red Bud on the right with the troops of the Second Division.” According to Irwin, the:

First Division’s First and Second Brigades, under Beal and McMillan, formed in the rear of the Second Division and on the right flank. Beal’s First Brigade was on the right of the division’s position, and McMillan’s Second Brigade deployed on the left and rear of Beal; in order of the 47th Pennsylvania, 8th Vermont, 160th New York, and 12th Connecticut, with five companies of the 47th Pennsylvania deployed to cover the whole right flank of his brigade and to move forward with it by the flank left in front. By this time, the Army of West Virginia had crossed the ford and was massed on the left of the west bank.

While the ground in front of the 6th Corps was for the most part open, the 19th Corps found itself in a dense wood, restricting its vision of both the enemy and its own forces.

“Much time was lost in getting all of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps through the narrow defile,” Sheridan observed, adding that, because Grover’s division was “greatly delayed there by a train of ammunition wagons … it was not until late in the forenoon that the troops intended for the attack could be got into line ready to advance.” As a result:

General Early was not slow to avail himself of the advantages thus offered him, and my chances of striking him in detail were growing less every moment, for Gordon and Rodes were hurrying their divisions from Stephenson’s depot across-country on a line that would place Gordon in the woods south of Red Bud Run, and bring Rodes into the interval between Gordon and Ramseur.

When the two corps had all got through the cañon they were formed with Getty’s division of the Sixth to the left of the Berryville pike, Rickett’s division to the right of the pike, and Russell’s division in reserve in rear of the other two. Grover’s division of the Nineteenth Corps came next on the right of Rickett’s, with Dwight to its rear in reserve, while Crook was to begin massing near the Opequon crossing about the time Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers]  were ready to attack.

Victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces, Battle of Opequan, 19 September 1864 (Kurz & Allison, c. 1893, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

More than a quarter of a century after the clash, Irwin conjured the spirit of the battle’s beginning:

About a quarter before twelve o’clock, at the sound of Sheridan’s bugle, repeated from corps, division, and brigade headquarters, the whole line moved forward with great spirit, and instantly became engaged. Wilson pushed back Lomax, Wright drove in Ramseur, while Emory, advancing his infantry [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers] rapidly through the wood, where he was unable to use his artillery, attacked Gordon with great vigor. Birge, charging with bayonets fixed, fell upon the brigade of Evans, forming the extreme left of Gordon, and without a halt drove it in confusion through the wood and across the open ground beyond to the support of Braxton’s artillery, posted by Gordon to secure his flank on the Red Bud road. In this brilliant charge, led by Birge in person, his lines naturally became disordered…. 

Sharpe, advancing simultaneously on Birge’s left, tried in vain to keep the alignment with Ricketts and with Birge…. At first the order of battle formed a right angle with the road, but the bend once reached, in the effort to keep closed upon it, at every step Ricketts was taking ground more and more to the left, while the point of direction for Birge, and equally for Sharpe, was the enemy in their front, standing almost in the exact prolongation of the defile, from which line, still plainly marked by Ash Hollow, the road … was steadily diverging.

As the battle continued to unfold, the disorganization affected the lines on both sides of the conflict. According to Irwin:

The 19th Corps Second Division was initially successful, but in its charge became disorganized; and the troops on the left in following the less obstructed area of the road which veared [sic] slightly left, soon opened up a gap on their right; while the remainder of the Union forces were moving straight ahead as they engaged the Confederates. This gap eventually reached 400 yards in width, an opportunity the Confederates soon exploited. Fortunately the Confederates were soon themselves disorganized by their advance, and encountering fresh Union troops on their right flank were halted. The Confederate attack on the right flank also achieved initial success, until halted by Beal’s first brigade.

McMillan had been ordered to move forward at the same time as Beal, and to form on his left. The five companies of the 47th Pennsylvania that had been detached to form a skirmish line on the Red Bud Run to cover McMillan’s right flank, had some how [sic] lost their way on the broken ground among the thickets, and, not finding them in place, McMillan had been obliged to send the remaining companies of the same regiment to do the same duty, and brought the rest of the brigade to the front to restore the line. The line then charged and drove the Confederates back beyond the positions where their attack had started. The initial engagement had lasted barely an hour, and by 1 PM was over. The right flank of the 19th Corps was held by the 47th Pennsylvania and 30th Massachusetts.

According to Sheridan:

Just before noon the line of Getty, Ricketts, and Grover moved forward, and as we advanced, the Confederates, covered by some heavy woods on their right, slight underbrush and corn-fields along their centre [sic], and a large body of timber on their left along the Red Bud, opened fire from their whole front. We gained considerable ground at first, especially on our left but the desperate resistance which the right met with demonstrated that the time we had unavoidably lost in the morning had been of incalculable value to Early, for it was evident that he had been enabled already to so far concentrate his troops as to have the different divisions of his army in a connected line of battle in good shape to resist.

Getty and Ricketts made some progress toward Winchester in connection with Wilson’s cavalry…. Grover in a few minutes broke up Evans’s brigade of Gordon’s division, but his pursuit of Evans destroyed the continuity of my general line, and increased an interval that had already been made by the deflection of Ricketts to the left, in obedience to instructions that had been given him to guide his division on the Berryville pike. As the line pressed forward, Ricketts observed this widening interval and endeavored to fill it with the small brigade of Colonel Keifer, but at this juncture both Gordon and Rodes struck the weak spot where the right of the Sixth Corps and the left of the Nineteenth should have been in conjunction, and succeeded in checking my advance by driving back a part of Ricketts’s division, and the most of Grover’s. As these troops were retiring I ordered Russell’s reserve division to be put into action, and just as the flank of the enemy’s troops in pursuit of Grover was presented, Upton’s brigade, led in person by both Russell and Upton, struck it in a charge so vigorous as to drive the Confederates back … to their original ground.

The success of Russell enabled me to re-establish the right of my line some little distance in advance of the position from which it started in the early morning, and behind Russell’s division (now commanded by Upton) the broken regiments of Ricketts’s division were rallied. Dwight’s division was then brought up on the right, and Grover’s men formed behind it….

No news of Torbert’s progress came … so … I directed Crook to take post on the right of the Nineteenth Corps and, when the action was renewed, to push his command forward as a turning-column in conjunction with Emory. After some delay … Crook got his men up, and posting Colonel Thoburn’s division on the prolongation of the Nineteenth Corps, he formed Colonel Duval’s division to the right of Thoburn. Here I joined Crook, informing him that … Torbert was driving the enemy in confusion along the Martinsburg pike toward Winchester; at the same time I directed him to attack the moment all of Duval’s men were in line. Wright was introduced to advance in concert with Crook, by swinging Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania and his other 19th Corps’ troops] and the right of the Sixth Corps to the left together in a half-wheel. Then leaving Crook, I rode along the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, the open ground over which they were passing affording a rare opportunity to witness the precision with which the attack was taken up from right to left. Crook’s success began the moment he started to turn the enemy’s left…

Both Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] and Wright took up the fight as ordered…. [A]s I reached the Nineteenth Corps the enemy was contesting the ground in its front with great obstinacy; but Emory’s dogged persistence was at length rewarded with success, just as Crook’s command emerged from the morass of the Red Bud Run, and swept around Gordon, toward the right of Breckenridge….”

As “Early tried hard to stem the tide” of the multi-pronged Union assault, “Torbert’s cavalry began passing around his left flank, and as Crook, Emory, and Wright attacked in front, panic took possession of the enemy, his troops, now fugitives and stragglers, seeking escape into and through Winchester,” according to Sheridan.

When this second break occurred, the Sixth and Nineteenth corps were moved over toward the Millwood pike to help Wilson on the left, but the day was so far spent that they could render him no assistance.” The battle winding down, Sheridan headed for Winchester to begin writing his report to Grant.

According to Irwin, although the heat of battle had cooled by 1 p.m., troop movements had continued on both sides throughout the afternoon until “Crook, with a sudden … effective half-wheel to the left, fell vigorously upon Gordon, and Torbert coming on with great impetuosity … the weight was heaviyer than the attenuated lines of Breckinridge and Gordon Could bear.” As a result, “Early saw his whole left wing give back in disorder, and as Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] and Wright pressed hard, Rodes and Ramseur gave way, and the battle was over.”

Early vainly endeavored to reconstruct his shattered lines [near Winchester]. About five o’clock Torbert and Crook, fairly at right angles to the first line of battle, covered Winchester on the north from the rocky ledges that lie to the eastward of the town…. Thence Wright extended the line at right angles with Crook and parallel with the valley road, while Sheridan drew out Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] … and sent him to extend Wright’s line to the south….

Sheridan, mindful that his men had been on their feet since two o’clock in the morning … made no attempt to send his infantry after the flying enemy….

Sheridan … openly rejoiced, and catching the enthusiasm of their leader, his men went wild with excitement when, accompanied by his corps commanders, Wright and Emory and Crook, Sheridan rode down the front of his lines. Then went up a mighty cheer that gave new life to the wounded and consoled the last moments of the dying….

When the President heard the news his first act was to write with his own hand a warm message of congratulation, and this he followed up by making Sheridan a brigadier-general in the regular army, and assigning him permanently to the high command he had been exercising under temporary orders.

Summing up the battle for Lincoln and Grant, Sheridan reported:

My losses in the Battle of Opequon were heavy, amounting to about 4,500 killed, wounded and missing. Among the killed was General Russell, commanding a division, and the wounded included Generals Upton, McIntosh and Chapman, and Colonels Duval and Sharpe. The Confederate loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners equaled about mine. General Rodes being of the killed, while Generals Fitzhugh Lee and York were severely wounded.

We captured five pieces of artillery and nine battle flags. The restoration of the lower valley – from the Potomac to Strasburg – to the control of the Union forces caused great rejoicing in the North, and relieved the Administration from further solicitude for the safety of the Maryland and Pennsylvania borders. The President’s appreciation of the victory was expressed in a despatch [sic] so like Mr. Lincoln I give a fac-simile [sic] of it to the reader. This he supplemented by promoting me to the grade of brigadier-general in the regular army, and assigning me to the permanent command of the Middle Military Department, and following that came warm congratulations from Mr. Stanton and from Generals Grant, Sherman and Meade.

“The losses of the Army of the Shenandoah, according to the revised statements compiled in the War Department, were 5018, including 697 killed, 3983 wounded, 338 missing,” per revised estimates by Irwin. “Of the three infantry corps, the 19th, though in numbers smaller than the 6th, suffered the heaviest loss, the aggregate being 2074 [314 killed, 1554 wounded, 206 missing]. Conversely, Early “lost nearly 4000 in all, including about 200 prisoners; or as other sources reported, anywhere from 5500 to 6850 killed, wounded, and missing or captured.”

Despite the significant number of killed, wounded and missing on both sides of the conflict, casualties within the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were surprisingly low. Private Thomas Steffen of Company B was killed in action while F Company Private William H. Jackson’s cause of death was somewhat less clear; he was reported in Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5 as having died on the same day on which the battle took place.

Among the wounded were C Company Corporal Timothy Matthias Snyder, who was wounded slightly in the knee, and Privates William Adams (E Company), Charles Pfeiffer (B Company), who lost the forefinger of his right hand, J. D. Raubenold (B Company), and Edward Smith (E Company).

As he penned his memoir in 1885 during the final days of his life, President Ulysses S. Grant again made clear the significance of the Battle of Opequan:

Sheridan moved at the time he had fixed upon. He met Early at the crossing of Opequon Creek [September 19], and won a most decisive victory – one which electrified the country. Early had invited this attack himself by his bad generalship and made the victory easy. He had sent G. T. Anderson’s division east of the Blue Ridge [to Lee] before I [Grant] went to Harpers Ferry and about the time I arrived there he started with two other divisions (leaving but two in their camps) to march to Martinsburg for the purpose of destroying the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at that point. Early here learned that I had been with Sheridan and, supposing there was some movement on foot, started back as soon as he got the information. But his forces were separated and … he was very badly defeated. He fell back to Fisher’s Hill, Sheridan following.

Battle of Winchester, 19 September 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 8 October 1864, public domain). Also known as the “Battle of Opequan” or “Third Winchester.”

In its 8 October 1864 edition, Harper’s Weekly recapped the battle as follows:

The engraving on page 644 illustrates one of the most spirited actions, and certainly the most imposing spectacle of the war. It will be remembered that Sheridan, after having got the Sixth Corps across the Opequan, was compelled to wait  full two hours for the arrival of the Nineteenth, and as a consequence of this to form an entirely new plan of battle in the face of an enemy already prepared and in line. At first the advantage appeared to rest with Early, whose fierce cannonade broke Sheridan’s first line, and threatened to disturb his second. But this state of affairs changed as soon as the Federal artillery got in position. The line of battle was reformed, and the conflict opened in terrible earnest. The two opposing armies were are some points not more than two hundred yards apart. The slaughter is described to have been truly awful; but the advantage rested now with Sheridan’s advancing columns. At a critical point in the fight the cavalry bugle was heard above the din of the strife and the shouts of the contending armies; then followed the charge, led by such soldiers as Merritt and Custer and Torbert, upon the enemy’s right. This decided the fortunes of the day. The movement was in accordance with Sheridan’s deep laid plan, and besides being the most magnificent of spectacles was also a most wonderful success. ‘The stubborn columns of Early’s command,’ says the Tribune correspondent, ‘were forced to give way, and break before the fierce onslaught which our cavalry made upon them, who, with sabre in hand, rode them down, cutting them right and left, capturing 721 privates and non-commissioned officers, with nine battle-flags and two guns.’ Thus was fought and won the battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864. [Also known as the Battle of Opequan.]

Outcome and Immediate Aftermath of the Battle of Opequan (Third Winchester)

According to historian Richard Bluhm, during the “severe fighting” in and around the Opequon Creek on 19 September, the Union’s:

VI Corps troops pushed Ramseur and Rodes back while XIX Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers] attacked Gordon’s position on the rebel left. As the two Union corps advanced, a gap opened between them. Two Confederate brigades charged into it and threatened to collapse the entire Union right until a counterattack by Russell’s division restored the Union line. Meanwhile, Sheridan, concerned how Torbert was faring at Stephenson’s Depot, redirected Crook to move his command to the Union right, toward Gordon’s rebel lines. North of Winchester, Wharton’s [Confederate] infantry temporarily held its position until Averell’s [Union] cavalry outflanked it, forcing the rebels back. Breckinridge [and his Confederate troops] retired toward Winchester with the Union cavalry in pursuit, but, near the town, Wharton’s two brigades counterattacked and stalled Torbert’s [Union] advance.

About the same time, Sheridan ordered a final coordinated thrust against the Confederate line, which was now bent into an L-shaped formation to the north and east of Winchester. Crook’s [Union] troops hit Gordon’s left flank and turned into it, sending the Confederate division reeling back, while Wright and Emory also brought their corps[including the 47th Pennsylvania] into action. Merritt’s and Averell’s Federal divisions made a classic cavalry charge into the Confederates’ far left flank, breaking the infantry lines. The combination of assaults shattered Early’s [Confederate] position and forced his army south in an orderly retreat out of Winchester. Sheridan’s [Union] infantry stopped on the south edge of the town while Union cavalry continued to pursue the Confederates to Kernstown. Early ended his retreat at a strong position on Fisher’s Hill about twenty miles away.

Sheridan continued his offensive against Early the next day At dawn, 20 September, his army moved south toward Fisher’s Hill. Crook received orders to make a concealed march the next day to hidden positions west of Fisher’s Hill and then make an assault on 22 September. Meanwhile, Sheridan sent Torbert east around Massanutten Mountain into the Luray Valley with a reinforced cavalry division. He was to cross back into the Valley some thirty miles south at New Market to cut off Early’s retreat.

Convinced that Early was finally beaten, Grant wanted Sheridan to move against the rail junction at Charlottesville, but Sheridan balked. He was almost one hundred miles from the closest Union supply depot, and foraging efforts in the picked over Valley could not support his army. He suggested destroying crops, barns, and other supplies in the Shenandoah Valley and then withdrawing with his army northward. With Grant’s approval, Sheridan sent Union cavalry as far south as Waynesboro to cut the railroads, burn grain and woolen mills, and seize or destroy crops and livestock….

The Battle of Fisher’s Hill

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

Per Irwin, the military value of Fisher’s Hill, Virginia “resided mainly in the fact that between the peaks of Masanutten and the North Mountains the jaws of the valley were contracted to a width of not more than four miles. The right flank of this shortened front rests securely upon the north fork of the Shenandoah, where it winds about the base of Three Top Mountain before bending widely toward the east to join the south fork and form the Shenandoah River. Across the front, among rocks, between steep and broken cliffs, winds the brawling brook called Tumbling Run, and above it, from its southern edge, rises the rugged crag called Fisher’s Hill.”

Forward the Skirmishers: On the Advance to Fisher’s Hill (Alfred Waud, 22 September 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

It was in and around this high ground that Confederate Lieutenant Jubal Early chose to regroup following his defeat on 19 September 1864 during the Battle of Opequan. But Sheridan and his Union troops were not about to let that happen. According to Irwin:

On the morning of the 20th of September Sheridan set out to follow Early, and in the afternoon took up a position before Strasburg, the Sixth Corps on the right, Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] on the left, and Crook behind Cedar Creek in support. The next morning the 21st, Sheridan pushed and followed Early’s skirmishers over the high hill that stands between Strasburg and Fisher’s Hill, overlooking both, drove them behind the defences [sic] of Fisher’s Hill, and took up a position covering the front from the banks of the North Fork on the left, where Emory’s left rested lightly, to the crown of the hill just mentioned, which commanded the approach by what is called the back road, or Cedar Creek grade, and was but slightly commanded by Fisher’s Hill itself. This strong vantage-ground Wright wrested from the enemy after a struggle, and felling the trees for protection and for range, planted his batteries there. The ground was very difficult, broken and rocky, and to hold it the Sixth Corps had to be drawn toward the right, while Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], following the movement, in the dark hours of the early morning of the 22d of September, extended his front so as to cover the ground thus given up by Wright.

Sheridan now thought of nothing short of the capture of Early’s army. Torbert was to drive the Confederate cavalry through the Luray, and thence, crossing the Massanutten range, was to lay hold of the valley pike at New Market, and plant himself firmly in Early’s rear on his only line of retreat. Crook, by a wide sweep to the right, his march hidden by the hills and woods, was to gain the back road, so as to come up secretly on Early’s left flank and rear, and the first sounds of battle … were to serve as a signal for Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] to fall on with everything they had.

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

During the forenoon of the 22d, Grover held the left of the position of the Nineteenth Corps, his division formed in two lines in the order of Macauley, Birge; Shunk, Molineaux. Dwight, in the order of Beal, McMillan [including the 47th Pennsylvania], held the right, and connected with Wheaton. In taking ground toward the right … this line had become too extended, and, as it was necessary that the left of the skirmishers, at least, should rest upon the river, Grover shortened his front by moving forward Foster with the 128th and Lewis with the 176th New York to drive in the enemy’s skirmishers opposite, and to occupy the ground that they had been holding. This was handsomely done under cover of a brisk shelling from Taft’s and Bradbury’s guns. As on the rest of the line, the whole front of the corps was covered as usual by hasty entrenchments. In the afternoon Ricketts moved far to the right, and seized a wooded knoll commanding Ramseur’s position on Fisher’s Hill. In preparation for the attack Sheridan gave Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] the ground on the left of the railway, and Wright that beyond it, and Molineaux moved forward to lead the advance of Grover. The sun was low when the noise of battle was heard far away on the right. This was Crook, sweeping everything before him as he charged suddenly out of the forest full upon the left flank and rear of Lomax and Ramseur, taking the whole Confederate line completely in reverse. The surprise was absolute. Instantly Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] took up the movement, and, inspired by the presence and the impetuous commands of Sheridan, descended rapidly the steep and broken sides of the ravine, at the bottom of which lies Tumbling Run, and then rather scrambling than charging up the rocky and almost inaccessible sides of Fisher’s Hill, swarmed over the strong entrenchments, line after line, and planting their colors upon the parapets, saw the whole army of Early in disorderly flight. Foremost to mount the parapet was Entwistle with his company of the 176th New York…. Crook, but almost at the same instant Wilson, gallantly leading the 28th Iowa, planted the colors of his regiment in the works…. [T]he Confederates … abandoned sixteen pieces of artillery where they stood. Early was unable to arrest the retreat of his army until he found himself near Edenburg, four miles beyond Woodstock.

Sheridan’s loss in this battle was 52 killed, 457 wounded, 19 missing, in all, 528…. Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] accounts for 15 killed, 86 wounded, 13 missing, together 114…. Early reports his loss in the infantry and artillery alone as 30 killed, 210 wounded, 995 missing, total 1,235; but Sheridan claims 1,100 prisoners….

[Sheridan] without a halt … pushed forward his whole organization, each regiment or brigade nearly in the order in which it chanced to file into the road. Devin’s cavalry brigade trod closely on the heels of what was left of Lomax, and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], whose line had crossed the valley road, pushed up it as fast as the men could move over the ground. Wright moved in close support of Emory and personally directed the operations of both corps, the Nineteenth as well as the Sixth. So fast did the infantry march that it was 10 o’clock at night before Devin, from his place in line on the right of the Sixth Corps, was able to take the road abreast with the Nineteenth, and broad daylight before his or any other horsemen passed the hardy yet toil-worn soldiers of Molineaux, who were left all night to lead the swift pursuit…. About half-past eight the head of the column first came in contact with the rear-guard of the enemy, but this was soon driven in, and no further resistance was offered until about an hour later, at the crossing of a creek near Woodstock, a brisk fire of musketry, aided by two guns in the road, was opened on Molineaux’s front, but was quickly silenced. At dawn on the 23d of September Sheridan went into bivouac covering Woodstock, and let the infantry rest until early in the afternoon, when he again took up the pursuit with Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], leaving Crook to care for the dead and wounded. Early fell back to Mount Jackson, and was preparing to make a stand when Averell coming up, he and Devin made so vigorous a demonstration with the cavalry alone that Early thought it best to continue his retreat beyond the North Fork to Rude’s Hill, which stands between Mount Jackson and New Market.

Sheridan advanced to Mount Jackson on the morning of the 24th of September, and before nightfall had concentrated his whole army there. He was moving his cavalry to envelop both of Early’s flanks and the infantry, Wright leading, to attack in front. However, Early did not wait for this, but retreated rapidly in order of battle, pursued by Sheridan in the same order, that is by the right of the regiments with an attempt at deploying intervals through New Market and six miles beyond to a point where a country road diverges through Keezletown and Cross Keys to Port Republic, at the head of the South Fork. Here both armies halted face to face, Sheridan for the night; but Early, as soon as it was fairly dark, fell back about five miles on the Port Republic road, and again halted at a point about fourteen miles short of that town.

Early’s object in quitting the main valley road, which would have conducted him to Harrisonburg, covering Staunton, was to receive once more the reinforcements that Lee, at the first tidings from Winchester, had again hurried forward under Kershaw. On the 25th of September, therefore, Early retreated through Port Republic toward Brown’s Gap, where Kershaw, marching from Culpeper through Swift Run Gap, joined him on the 26th. Here also Early’s cavalry rejoined him, Wickham from the Luray valley, and Lomax, pressed by Powell, from Harrisonburg.

Sheridan, keeping to the main road, advanced to Harrisonburg with Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], leaving Crook to hold the fork of the roads where Early had turned off. At Harrisonburg Torbert rejoined with Merritt and Wilson. Then Sheridan sent Torbert with Wilson and Lowell by Staunton to Waynesboro, where, before quitting the valley by Rockfish Gap, the main road, as well as the railway to Charlottesville, crosses the affluent of the Shenandoah known as the South River. To divert attention from this raid Sheridan reinforced Devin, who, in the absence of Torbert’s main body, had been following and observing Early near Port Republic without other cavalry support, and thus Merritt presently ran into Kershaw marching to join Early at Brown’s Gap. Early, having gone as far as he wished, turned upon Merritt and drove him across the South Fork, but just then getting the first inkling of Torbert’s movements, divined their purpose … [and] marched with all speed, in compact order and with the greatest watchfulness in every direction, on Rockfish Gap. But Torbert, having a good start, won the race, and … caused [Early] to draw off.

Sheridan … had gone nearly as far as he intended, but as he meant presently to begin with his cavalry above Staunton the work of destroying the value of the whole valley to the Confederate army, on the 29th he ordered Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] to Mount Crawford to support Torbert in this work…. Sheridan … propose to bring the Valley campaign to an end with the destruction of the crops, and then to move with his main force to join Grant on the James. Grant, at once agreeing to this, directed Sheridan to keep Crook in the valley and to transfer the rest of his force to the armies before Richmond.

In 1888, Sheridan recalled this critical period in the Union Army’s history:

The night of the 19th of September I gave orders for following Early up the valley next morning – the pursuit to begin at daybreak – and in obedience to these directions Torbert moved Averell out on the Back road leading to Cedar Creek and Merritt up the Valley pike toward Strasburg, while Wilson was directed on Front Royal by way of Stevensburg. Merritt’s division was followed by the infantry Emory’s [including the 47th Pennsylvania] and Wright’s columns marching abreast in the open country to the right and left of the pike, and Crook’s immediately behind them. The enemy having kept up his retreat at night, presented no opposition whatever until the cavalry discovered him posted at Fisher’s Hill, on the first defensive line where he could hope to make any serious resistance. No effort was made to dislodge him, and later in the day, after Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] came up, Torbert shifted Merritt over toward the Back road till [sic] he rejoined Averell. As Merritt moved to the right, the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] crossed Cedar Creek and took up the ground the cavalry was vacating, Wright posting his own corps to the west of the Valley pike overlooking Strasburg, and Emory’s [including the 47th Pennsylvania] on his left so as to extend almost to the road leading from Strasburg to Front Royal. Crook, as he came up the same evening, went into position in some heavy timber on the north bank of the Cedar Creek.

A reconnoissance [sic] made pending these movements convinced me that the enemy’s position at Fisher’s Hill was so strong that a direct assault would entail unnecessary destruction of life, and, besides, be of doubtful result. At the point where Early’s troops were in position, between the Massanutten range and Little North Mountain, the valley is only about three and a half miles wide. All along the precipitous bluff which overhangs Tumbling Run on the south side, a heavy line of earthworks had been constructed when Early retreated to this point in August, and these were now being strengthened so as to make them almost impregnable; in fact, so secure did Early consider himself that, for convenience, his ammunition chests were taken from the caissons and placed behind the breastworks. Wharton, now in command of Breckenridge’s division … held the right of this line, with Gordon next him; Pegram, commanding Ramseur’s old division, joined Gordon. Ramseur with Rodes’s division, was on Pegram’s left, while Lomax’s cavalry, now serving as foot-troops, extended the line to the Back road. Fitzhugh Lee being wounded, his cavalry, under General Wickham, was sent to Milford to prevent Fisher’s Hill from being turned through the Luray Valley.

In consequence of the enemy’s being so well protected from a direct assault, I resolved on the night of the 20th to use again a turning-column against his left, as had been done on the 19th at Opequan.  To this end I resolved to move Crook, unperceived if possible, over to the eastern face of Little North Mountain, whence he could strike the left and rear of the Confederate line, and as he broke it up, I could support him by a left half-wheel of my whole line of battle. The execution of this plan would require perfect secrecy, however, for the enemy from his signal-station on Three Top could plainly see every movement of our troops in daylight. Hence, to escape such observation, I marched Crook during the night of the 20th into some heavy timber north of Cedar Creek, where he lay concealed all day of the 21st. This same day Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] were moved up closer to the Confederate works, and the Sixth Corps, after a severe fight, in which Ricketts’s and Getty were engaged, took up some high ground on the right of the Manassas Gap railroad in plain view of the Confederate works, and confronting a commanding point where much of Early’s artillery was massed. Soon after General Wright had established this line I rode with him along it to the westward, and finding that the enemy was still holding an elevated position further to our right, on the north side of Tumbling Run, I directed this also to be occupied. Wright soon carried the point, which gave us an unobstructed view of the enemy’s works and offered good ground for our artillery. It also enabled me to move the whole of the Sixth Corps to the front till its line was within about seven hundred yards of the enemy’s works; the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania], on the morning of the 22d, covering the ground vacated by the Sixth by moving to the front and extending to the right, but still keeping its reserves on the railroad.

In the darkness of the night of the 21st, Crook was brought across Cedar Creek and hidden in a clump of Timber behind Hupp’s Hill till daylight of the 22d, when, under cover of the intervening woods and ravines, he was marched beyond the right of the Sixth Corps and again concealed not far from the Back road. After Crook had got into this last position, Ricketts’s division was pushed out until it confronted the left of the enemy’s infantry, the rest of the Sixth Corps extending from Ricketts’s left to the Manassas Gap railroad, while the Nineteenth Corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] filled in the space between the left of the Sixth and the North Fork of the Shenandoah….

While Ricketts was occupying the enemy’s attention, Crook, again moving unobserved into the dense timber on the eastern face of the Little North Mountain, conducted his command south in two parallel columns until he gained the rear of the enemy’s works, when, marching his divisions by the left flank, he led them in an easterly direction down the mountain-side. As he emerged from the timber near the base of the mountain, the Confederates discovered him … and opened with their batteries, but it was too late – they having few troops at hand to confront the turning-column. Loudly cheering, Crook’s men quickly crossed the broken stretch in rear of the enemy’s left, producing confusion and consternation at every step.

About a mile from the mountain’s base, Crook’s left was joined by Ricketts, who in proper time had begun to swing his division into action, and the two commands moved along in rear of the works so rapidly that, with but slight resistance, the Confederates abandoned the guns massed near the centre [sic]. The swinging movement of Ricketts was taken up successively from right to left throughout my line, and in a few minutes the enemy was thoroughly routed, the action, though brief, being none the less decisive. Lomax’s dismounted cavalry gave way first, but was shortly followed by all the Confederate infantry in an indescribable panic, precipitated doubtless by fears of being caught and captured in the pocket formed by Tumbling Run and the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The stampede was complete, the enemy leaving the field without semblance of organization, abandoning nearly all his artillery and such other property as was in the works, and the rout extending through the fields and over the woods toward Woodstock, Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania] in hot pursuit.

Midway between Fisher’s Hill and Woodstock there is some high ground, where at night-fall a small squad endeavored to stay with us two pieces of artillery, but this attempt at resistance proved fruitless, and notwithstanding the darkness, the guns were soon captured. The chase was then taken up by Devin’s brigade as soon as it could be passed to the front, and continued till after daylight the next morning, but the delays incident to a night pursuit made it impossible for Devin to do more than pick up stragglers….

The battle of Fisher’s Hill was, in a measure, a part of the battle of Opequon; that is to say, it was an incident of the pursuit resulting from that action. In many ways, however, it was much more satisfactory, and particularly so because the plan arranged on the evening of the 20th was carried out to the very letter by Generals Wright, Crook, and Emory, not only in all their preliminary manoeuvres [sic], but also during the fight itself. The only drawback was with the cavalry, and to this day I have been unable to account satisfactorily for Torbert’s failure….

We reached Woodstock early on the morning of the 23d, and halted there some little time to let the troops recover their organization, which had been broken in the night march they had just made. When the commands had closed up we pushed on toward Edinburg, in the hope of making more captures at Narrow Passage Creek; but the Confederates, too fleet for us, got away; so General Wright halted the infantry not far from Edinburg, till rations could be brought for the men. Meanwhile I, having remained at Woodstock, sent Devin’s brigade to press the enemy … and if possible prevent him from halting long enough to reorganize. Notwithstanding Devin’s efforts the Confederates managed to assemble a considerable force to resist him, and being too weak for the rear-guard, he awaited the arrival of Averell, who … would be hurried to the front with all possible despatch [sic]…. It turned out, however, that he was not near by [sic] at all, and … without good reason he had refrained from taking any part whatever in pursuing the enemy in the flight from Fisher’s Hill, and in fact had gone into camp and and left to the infantry the work of pursuit….

The failure of Averell to press the enemy the evening of the 23d gave early time to collect his scattered forces and take up a position on the east side of the North Fork of the Shenandoah, his left resting on the west side of that stream at Rude’s Hill, a commanding point about two miles south of Mt. Jackson. Along this line he had constructed some slight works during the night, and at daylight on the 24th I moved the Sixth and Nineteenth corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] through Mt. Jackson to attack him, sending Powell’s division to pass around his left flank, toward Timberville, and Devin’s brigade across the North Fork, to move along the base of Peaked Ridge and attack his right. The country was entirely open, and none of these manoeuvres [sic] could be executed without being observed, so as soon as my advance began, the enemy rapidly retreated in line of battle up the valley through New Market, closely followed by Wright and Emory [including the 47th Pennsylvania], their artillery on the pike and their columns on its right and left. Both sides moved with celerity, the Confederates stimulated by the desire to escape, and our men animated by the prospect of wholly destroying Early’s army. The stern-chase continued for about thirteen miles, our infantry often coming within range, yet whenever we began to deploy, the Confederates increased the distance between us by resorting to a double quick, evading battle with admirable tact. While all this was going on, the open country permitted us a rare and brilliant site, the bright sun gleaming from the arms and trappings of the thousands of pursuers and pursued.

Near New Market, as a last effort to hold the enemy, I pushed Devlin’s cavalry – comprising about five hundred men – with two guns right up on Early’s lines, in the hope that the tempting opportunity given him to capture the guns would stay his retreat long enough to let my infantry deploy within range, but he refused the bait, and … continued on with little loss and in pretty good order….

Some six miles south of [New Market] Early left the Valley Pike and took the road to Keezletown, a move due … mainly [to] the fact that the Keezletown road ran immediately along the base of Peaked Mountain – a rugged ridge affording protection to Early’s right flank – and led in a direction facilitating his junction with Kershaw, who had been ordered back to him from Culpeper the day after the battle of Opequon. The chase was kept up on the Keezletown road till darkness overtook us, when my weary troops were permitted to go into camp; and as soon as the enemy discovered by our fires that the pursuit had stopped, he also bivouacked some five miles farther south toward Port Republic.

The next morning Early was joined by Lomax’s cavalry from Harrisonburg, Wickham’s and Payne’s brigades of cavalry also uniting with him from the Luray Valley. His whole army then fell back to the mouth of Brown’s Gap to await Kershaw’s division and Cutshaw’s artillery….

By the morning of the 25th the main body of the enemy had disappeared entirely from my front, and the capture of some small squads of Confederates in the neighboring hills furnished us the only incidents of the day….

Picking up prisoners here and there, my troops resumed their march directly south on the Valley pike, and when the Sixth and Nineteenth corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] reached Harrisonburg they went into camp, Powell in the meanwhile pushing on to Mt. Crawford, and Crook taking up a position in our rear at the junction of Keezletown road and the Valley pike. Late in the afternoon Torbert’s cavalry came in from New Market.

The succeeding day I sent Merritt to Port Republic to occupy the enemy’s attention, while Torbert, with Wilson’s division and the regular brigade, was ordered to Staunton, whence he was to proceed to Waynesboro and blow up the railroad bridge. Having done this, Torbert, as he returned, was to drive off whatever cattle he could find, destroy all forage and breadstuffs, and burn the mills. He took possession of Waynesboro in due time, but had succeeded in only partially demolishing the railroad bridge when, attacked by Pegram’s division of infantry and Wickham’s cavalry, he was compelled to fall back to Staunton. From the latter place he retired to Bridgewater and Spring Hill, on the way, however, fully executing his instructions regarding the destruction of supplies.”

Meanwhile, added Sheridan, “Merritt had occupied Port Republic, but he happened to get there the very day that Kershaw’s division was marching from Swift Run Gap to join Early”:

Kershaw’s four infantry brigades attacked at once, and Merritt, forced out of Port Republic, fell back toward Cross Keys … I ordered the infantry there, but Torbert’s attack at Waynesboro had alarmed Early, and … he drew all his forces in toward Rock-fish Gap. This enabled me to re-establish Merritt at Port Republic, send the Sixth and Nineteenth corps [including the 47th Pennsylvania] to the neighborhood of Mt. Crawford to await the return of Torbert, and to post Crook at Harrisonburg; these dispositions practically obtained till the 6th of October, I holding a line across the valley from Port Republic along North River by Mt. Crawford to the Back road near the mouth of Briery Branch Gap….

Grant, once again via his own personal memoirs, reiterated the significance of Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley victories:

The valley is narrow at that point [Fisher’s Hill], and Early made another stand there, which extended across. But Sheridan turned both his flanks and again sent him speeding up the valley, following in hot pursuit. The pursuit was continued up the valley to Mount Jackson and New Market. Sheridan captured eleven hundred prisoners and sixteen guns. The houses which he passed all along the route were found to be filled with Early’s wounded, and the country swarmed with his deserters. Finally, on the 25th, Early turned from the valley eastward, leaving Sheridan at Harrisonburg in undisputed possession.

Now one of the main objects of the expedition began to be accomplished. Sheridan went to work with his command, gathering in the crops, cattle, and everything in the upper part of the valley required by our troops, and especially taking what might be of use to the enemy. What he could not take away he destroyed, so that the enemy would not be invited to come back there. I congratulated Sheridan upon his recent great victory and had a salute of a hundred guns fired in honor of it, the guns being aimed at the enemy around Petersburg. I also notified the other commanders throughout the country, who also fired salutes in honor of the victory.

Private Jacob M. Kerkendall, Company E, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers was one of the Union soldiers who were wounded in action during the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, Virginia.

Through the Eyes of a 47th Pennsylvanian

Corporal Timothy Snyder’s Knee Wound Described by Henry D. Wharton, 47th Pennsylvania (September 1864, Sunbury American, public domain).

In a letter home to the Sunbury American newspaper later that month, 47th Pennsylvanian Henry D. Wharton recapped his regiment’s recent combat experiences:

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
HARRISONBURG, Va., Sept, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:

As there has been no train going back to Harper’s Ferry, and our long and hurried chase after the Johnnies, I have not been able to send you any account of our great and glorious victories. We have, this morning, a breathing spell, so I will profit by it and give you a short history of our doings.

On Monday, Sept. 19, we broke camp at two o’clock in the morning, and moved in the direction of Winchester. The 19th corps marched slowly for an hour when they stopped for two hours. Hearing heavy firing they moved on crossed the Opequan creek, and pushed forward quickly, eager to join in any fun going on in front. This sport was found three miles east of Winchester, where the 6th and artillery were engaged with the enemy. The two Divisions of the 19th with the 8th were thrown in line of battle, ready for the work before them. Keeping in this line for about thirty minutes, under the artillery of the rebels, who were engaged in a nice little duel with our own, an advance was ordered. Our men moved forward as if on parade, and were soon hid in a thick woods, were the rebels were massed to receive them. Then the murderous work commenced. For twenty minutes a continual roar of musketry was heard, reports of artillery shook the earth and the air seemed filed with the whiz of shells and bullets, commingled with the cheers of the men engaged in deadly strife, when a portion of our centre [sic] broke and fell back from the woods into the field from which they started. Matters at this moment looked dark and a retreat seemed on the tapis, but not so, a defiant cheer arose above the din of battle, and the 1st Division of the 19th and parts of the 6th stopped the graybacks in their advance. The party who broke, now rallied, and our whole force was hurled against the foe, driving them from every position they held, finally forcing them into a disgraceful retreat, chasing horse, foot and dragoon twenty-two miles to Fisher’s Hill, back of Strausburg [sic]. The enemy left so hurriedly that twenty-five hundred wounded fell into our hands, besides their dead. We captured over four thousand prisoners, five pieces of artillery, any quantity of small arms, and fifteen battle flags. The loss of their General officers shows how severely they were punished. Generals Rhodes, Gordon, Ramseur and Wharton were killed, and Generals Bradley T. Johnson, Yorke and Godwin wounded. The total rebel loss in killed, wounded and captured, was between eight and nine thousand. You may rely on the amount of prisoners – for I saw the most of them – at one place in Winchester twenty-five hundred, and of squads brought in during the fight, I counted from two hundred down to as low numbers as one Colonel. – Our loss was severe, but not one-fourth that of the enemy, as we lost no prisoners and retained possession of our wounded. I crossed over a part of the battle-field, and found a sickening sight. Dead and dying covered the ground, wounded men gasping for breath and others crying for water. These were mostly rebels, (our own having been cared for,) but were now being attended to by our nurses, and would have been before, only that they, (the rebels) were further on in the battle field than our men. The rebels fled so precipitately, that not to be deterred to their flight, they cut their accoutrements from their waists and shoulders, and threw away their guns, leaving all in the field. – Dead bodies were to be seen into the very town of Winchester, and on the outskirts, I saw one, breathing his last, who had been shot behind a stone fence, while trying to do the same trick to one of our own boys. On the route through Newtown, Middleton and the whole way to Cedar creek, evidence of their flight was seen. Dead horses, burned caissons, wagons, ambulances and the destruction of arms. All these things were by the road side and in the fields, showing how hard pushed Early was in his flight.

The 1st Division of the 6th corps, in the death of General Russell, lost a capable officer, and his loss is regretted by all who were under his command.

On Tuesday night our forces reached Strasburg, or rather on the hills, of the Winchester side. The next day we advanced about one mile, and occupied the day in shelling the woods, to find out the position of the enemy. This was accomplished, and that night a portion of the army moved toward Fisher’s Hill, which was occupied by the enemy. The next morning, Thursday, our entire army was formed in line, and assigned positions. Skirmish lines, with their supports, were thrown out who gradually drove them from the many lines, they established during the day. Our artillery were engaged most of the day in shelling their lines and trying to get an answer from their batteries. This was done about two o’clock, when they fired at our skirmish line, as they made a general advance. Then commenced a heavy artillery fight, during which our lines steadily drove that of the rebels back. The Johnnies were driven from line to line, until finally they broke and fled in worse confusion than they did at Winchester, our boys after them, yelling, the rebels leaving behind all the artillery they had in position, which our fellows took and used on them as they disgracefully retreated. Our boys followed them at double-quick about four miles, in the greatest glee, forgetting all fatigue in their triumph, nor thinking of danger, when, under cover of darkness, the rebels fired four shots of artillery loaded with shell right in their front, and from musketry on either side. The damage down was slight, only wounding some three or four, but for the moment caused confusion, but Sheridan who is always in front, shouted never mind one gun after so glorious a victory; give them a yell you can frighten them with that,’ which the boys did, and then continued on to Woodstock, where they had to stop for rest and rations. The gun used by the rebels in this cowardly attack was captured by our men on the spot.

Our stay at Woodstock was a short one, for we immediately pushed on after the flying foe, they only stopping occasionally to impede our progress, that they might get off their train. The people by the way, told us such a retreat was never heard of. Cavalry, Artillery, Infantry, and waggon [sic] trains all mixed up – each one trying to be foremost. They say their Army is completely demoralized, and the people were anxious for peace. A woman told some of us that the retreating soldiers swore they would fight no more. General Early, at New Market, cried when he could no more rally his men, that he might make a final stand to retrieve his lost fortune.

Of the amount of prisoners captured I cannot give you a correct amount. It can safely be put down at eight hundred. We captured nineteen pieces of artillery, two battle flags, and of small arms I will make no attempt to guess, only I can tell you that they were more numerously scattered than on the way to Winchester. At all the towns we passed, Edensburg, Mt. Jackson, New Market and Harrisonburg, there are two or three hospitals, filled with wounded, injured in these late battles.

The 47th was in the midst of these fights, yet she has almost escaped unharmed. The casualties were one killed and ten wounded, none dangerously. Of the wounded one was Timothy Snyder, slight in knee, from Co. C. Please inform friends of our safety, that all are well and in the best possible humor over last week’s glorious work.

Early by some means got the remains of his army through Thornton’s Gap, near New Market, and are supposed to be going toward Gordonville. What steps General Sheridan will take for their pursuit is not known. The distance we have pursued the rebels is sixty-five miles, this with the amount of captures, killed and wounded, I have no doubt you will consider a pretty good six day’s work. With respects to friends, yourself and family, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H.
D. W.

 

Next: The Battle of Cedar Creek

 

Sources:

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

2. Battle of Berryville, 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. 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.

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

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

10. 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.

11. Snyder, Laurie. Red River Campaign (Louisiana, March to May 1864), and A Voyage North and a Memorable Encounter with Abraham Lincoln, and From Louisiana to Virginia (1864): The Battle of Snicker’s Gap and Service with the Army of the Shenandoah, in 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Retrieved online 1 July 2017.

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

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

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

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

 

The Shenandoah Valley Viewed from the Maryland Heights: Contemplating 1864’s Gathering Storm

Shenandoah Valley from Maryland Heights (Alfred R. Waud, 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

 

Transcription of Alfred Waud’s Description of His Illustration Above:

Shenandoah Valley from Maryland Heights (Alfred Waud’s notes, p. 1, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The Shenandoah valley from Maryland Heights – in 1864.

This sketch shows the valley up to where the Massanutten Mountain range divides it into the Luray valley on the left. The Shenandoah valley continuing on the right, with a smaller – Powers Fort – valley between the two running up into the Massanuttens. On the right, or the northern side of the valley is the Shenandoah or Great North Mtn. range. On the left the rugged heights of the Blue Ridge, with Snickers, Ashby’s, Manassas, Chester, and Thorntons Gaps in succession, and still further on Swift-run, Powells, Browns, Jarmans, and Rockfish Gaps. The last within twenty miles of Charlottesville.

In the extreme distance about the center between Massanutten and Great North, is Mt. Jackson, beyond, and overlooking the battle ground of Strasbourg, Fisher’s hill and Cedar Creek. Martinsburg and Bunker Hill lie just out of the sketch to the right. Although unseen, on account of woods and hills obstructing the view, the towns of Charlestown, Winchester, Berryville, Kernstown, Newtown, Middletown, Strasburg, and Front Royal, are within range.

Shenandoah Valley from Maryland Heights (Alfred Waud’s notes, p. 2, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The Rocky bed of the Shenandoah river occupies the center of the picture. Loudon heights on one side. Bolivar heights on the other, dotted with houses and tents, and cut up with roads and paths to the camps, the Winchester pike showing distinctly for some miles. It was on this plateau – Bolivar heights, that Colonel Miles placed his troops when Jackson invested Harpers Ferry, taking position on Loudoun, and Maryland heights and compelling the Union force to surrender. Harpers Ferry is to [sic, “too”] low down under the shoulder of the mountain to be seen from the point on Maryland heights from which the sketch was made.

– A.R. Waud

 

Alfred Waud sitting in the Devil’s Den in July 1863, following the Battle of Gettysburg (Timothy H. O’Sullivan, 1863, public domain).

Alfred Rudolph Waud (1827-1891) was a London-born artist who became a notable chronicler of the American Civil War. Hired as a full-time staff illustrator for the New York Illustrated News in 1860 and then by Harper’s Weekly in 1861, he reportedly observed every battle fought by the U.S. Army of the Potomac between July 1861 and March 1865, and became one of only two sketch artists to witness and illustrate the strategic maneuvering, valor and carnage which transpired during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

His sketches of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, which turned the tide of the U.S. Civil War significantly in favor of the Union, preserved for posterity the stark contrasts between the valley’s beauty and the ugliness wrought by war.

 

Faces of the 47th Project Honors History-Making Civil War Soldiers from Pennsylvania

First Lieutenant William Wallace Geety, Co. H, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1864-1865.

A tantalizing new video released by 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story just opened an important new portal to the 19th century for Civil War enthusiasts, teachers, students, and genealogists.

Faces of the 47th is part of a larger, ongoing initiative to document and raise public awareness about the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry – the only regiment from the Keystone State to fight in the Union’s 1864 Red River Campaign  across Louisiana. The video presents the photographic and illustrated images of more than two dozen men who fought with the all-volunteer unit between 1861 and 1865.

“Each one of these images holds the potential to help family history researchers feel closer to their Civil War-era ancestors while also enabling teachers, students and Civil War enthusiasts to deepen their connections to one of the most painful chapters in the American narrative,” explains Laurie Snyder, managing editor for the project. “By ‘putting faces to the names’ on military muster rolls, we’re bringing history to life while also paying tribute to those who fought to eradicate slavery and preserve our nation’s union.”

The photo digitization project received early support from Thomas MacEntee, founder of High-Definition Genealogy, via The Genealogy Fairy™ program, which enabled Snyder to locate and digitize photographs of key members of the regiment. Among the images preserved in this initial collection are the faces of a regimental chaplain, musicians, prisoners of war (POWs), military surgeons, and officers and enlisted men who were grievously wounded or killed in combat, as well as several men who became inventors, leading business executives and elected officials in and beyond Pennsylvania after the war.

George Dillwyn John (third from left; formerly, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers), Grand Army of the Republic gathering, Will Robinson Post, Illinois, c. 1926.

“At the time I applied for the grant, there were hundreds of photographs tucked away in public libraries, historical societies, universities, and private family history collections from Maine to California and Michigan to Louisiana. Most had not yet been digitized and might have been lost for all time had Thomas MacEntee not provided the support he did when he did,” said Snyder. “More work still needs to be done, of course, because there are photos still not yet scanned, but the project took more than two dozen giant steps forward with just that one grant from Thomas. He’s a hero in my book.”

Other significant support for the project has been provided by the Burrowes and Wasserman families.

About the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers

Joseph Eugene Walter, Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1861.

Recruited primarily at community gathering places in their respective home towns, the soldiers who served with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were primarily men of German heritage whose families still spoke German or “Pennsylvania Dutch” more than a century after their ancestors emigrated from Germany in search of religious and political freedom. Still others were recent immigrants from Germany, Ireland and Cuba. Formerly enslaved black men who had been freed by the regiment from plantations in South Carolina and Louisiana were added to regimental rosters in 1862 and 1864.

In addition to fighting in the battles of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield, Pleasant Hill and Monett’s Ferry/Cane River during the Red River Campaign, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers also engaged in the defense of Washington, D.C. in 1861 and again in 1865, following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln; the capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida and Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina (1862); the garrisoning of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas, Florida (1863); Union Major-General Philip Sheridan’s tide-turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign (1864), including the battles of Berryville, Opequon, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek; and provost (military police) and Reconstruction duties in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina (1865). Most were finally released from duty when the regiment formally mustered out on Christmas Day in 1865.

Learn More and Support

To learn more about the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and lend your support to this historic initiative, visit the website of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story, and follow the project on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.

 

 

From Louisiana to Virginia (1864): The Battle of Snicker’s Gap and Service with the Army of the Shenandoah

Cool Spring Battlefield, Clark County, Virginia (2016, North Virginia Regional Park Authority, public domain).

Cool Spring Battlefield, Clarke County, Virginia (2016, North Virginia Regional Park Authority, public domain).

Battered but undeterred following their experience in the Union’s Red River Campaign across Louisiana and still attached to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the U.S. Army’s 19th Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers received new orders on the 4th of July 1864. Under the command of brigadier-generals James W. McMillan, William Dwight, Jr. and William Hemsley Emory (with McMillan continuing to report to Dwight and Dwight to Emory, who headed the 19th Corps), the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were directed to return to the East Coast.

They did – but they did so in two stages.

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c. 1860-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c. 1860-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

According to 47th Pennsylvania historian Lewis Schmidt, ‘’Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I, composing the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and half of the 4th division, sailed from Algiers … at 1 PM on Thursday, July 7. Companies B, G and K of the 4th and 5th divisions remained behind at Morganza, La. under command of Capt. Harte, for want of transportation, and would not arrive in Washington until July 28.”

The men from the 47th’s first detachment could not yet know it, but their transit would lead them into a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln.

As this first grouping readied for departure, Corporal George R. Nichols of E Company penned the following diary entry on 7 July:

Received orders to Pack up at Six O’clock AM and I was detailed on fatigue duty to Load wagons it was for a Mark [demerit]. We Marched to the dock. Embarked on Board of the Steamer McClellan. ar [sic] was packed on Board because about Nine hundred Men was Shoved on her at one O’clock PM. Started down the Mississippi River. Past a New Mail Steamer at five PM Bound for New Orleans Past forts St. Phillip and Jackson at 8 PM. came to anchor at ten Oclock and layed to for the Night’…. [continuing on Friday]: ‘Started this Morning at four Oclock AM. Crost the Bar about Seven. Shaped our course South East. At nine Oclock the orders was torn open, and then we knowed or destination. So we are Bound for Virginia. Well I am Glad. Maby I can See My Brother’ [with the Pennsylvania Bucktail Regiment].

En route, C Company scribe Henry D. Wharton continued chronicling the regiment’s movement:

The passage down the Mississippi was mostly at night, so I am unable to give you a description of it. At Pilottown we exchanged pilots; immediately below was hailed by the S river gunboat 48 with ‘steamer ahoy: what steamer’s that?’ which was answered satisfactorily, when with a wave of the hand we parted, our boat on its way to cross the bar, and then to find out by certain papers our destination. An expedition was on the move but what point no one outside of headquarters was able to tell. It was a secret move. This was right, for the destination of former expeditions was known weeks before embarking, and by the time the troops reached the point to which they were ordered, the rebs were ready to receive them. New Orleans is filled with traitors and spies, ready to do the bidding of Jefferson D., and it is necessary that the greatest precaution be used when anything extraordinary is going on.

As the pilot was leaving, after safely steering ‘Little Mac’ past the Belize, the sealed orders were opened, when we learned our course was toward Fortress Monroe, to join in the good work going on in front of Richmond. Why our destination was kept so secret I cannot conjecture, unless it was a bait to catch spies, inducing them to forward word to Johnston that an advance was being made on Mobile, which might lead him to withdraw a portion of his troops from Sherman’s front an send them to the protection of the latter city.

When out on the gulf sixty miles, Jonas Snyder of Carbon County, Pa., a member of Company I, died. His body was prepared for burial by nicely sewing it up in blankets, with weights attached to make it sink. The funeral was conducted by Chaplain Rodrock, who read the beautiful sea service from the prayer book of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The ‘Flag of our Union’ was at half mast, the boat stopped, and as the sun was hiding in the west, the body was launched into the sea, sinking to rise no more, until the great day comes when the soul must give an account for the ‘deeds’ done in the body. 

[Note: Pvt. Jonas Snyder: 45 years old, 5’3”tall, former powder maker, died from chronic diarrhea on Friday, 8 July; however, his death was recorded in regimental books as having occurred on 19 July 1864.

A significant thinning of the ranks occurred during this phase of duty as other ailing members of the 47th Pennsylvania who had been left behind to convalesce in Louisiana and Mississippi lost their battles with disease and war wound recovery, or were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability. Among the deceased were B Company’s Josiah Braden, who died in New Orleans and rests at the Chalmette National Cemetery in St. Bernard Parish; H Company’s Private George H. Smith, who passed away while receiving medical care at the Union’s general hospital at Natchez, Mississippi and was laid to rest in the city cemetery there before being exhumed and reinterred at the Natchez National Cemetery; and G Company’s Sergeant James Crader, who also died at the Natchez hospital but whose body was ultimately returned to Pennsylvania for burial at Allentown’s Union-West End Cemetery. According to Schmidt:

Sgt. Crader, a 48 year old shoemaker, was the father of James W., Thomas K., and Edwin K. Crader who served with the same company. His son James W. Crader would receive a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant in 1865. A news article in the Allentown Morning Call of October 24, 1910, reported in contradiction, that Sgt. Crader was ‘on his way home sick’ when he died.

The deaths continued in mid-July as A Company Privates J. Williamson and Michael Andrew died, respectively, at Baton Rouge and New Orleans on 13 and 14 July; Williamson’s grave remains unidentified to this day, according to Schmidt, but may be located at one of the national cemeteries in Baton Rouge or Port Hudson, Louisiana. Andrew, a widowed father who left behind five children under the age of 16, was ultimately interred at the Chalmette National Cemetery.

“Also returning home on another ship about this same time, after being discharged with a surgeon’s certificate in June, was Pvt. Jacob Rinnick of Company E.” Per Schmidt, he:

died on board ship as a civilian, one day out of New York. The body was temporarily buried on Long Island in the Cypress Hill Cemetery, and later disinterred after a short burial. On Saturday, July 30, the remains were returned to Easton and interred in the City Cemetery after services in his father’s house. Another source reported that the burial took place at the German Reformed Church Burial Ground in Easton.

Privates Thaddeus Heckroth of B Company, Jerome Bryner of H Company and I Company’s William Münch were among those discharged via Surgeons’ Certificates. Heckroth and Bryner were released from duty while still in Louisiana while Münch was discharged while at sea.]

Meanwhile, as Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I were en route to the East Coast via the steamer McClellan, the Confederate threat to the nation’s capital mounted as troops led by Lieutenant General Jubal Early made their way north through the Shenandoah Valley toward Washington. “As a result,” explained Schmidt, “troops were diverted to the defenses of Washington, and as units of the First Division of the 19th Corps began to arrive at Fortress Monroe, their orders were changed and they were sent on to the Capital. This confusion in destinations caused the main detachment of the [47th Pennsylvania] to bypass Bermuda Hundred and proceed directly to Washington.”

Still steaming aboard the McClellan on Sunday, 10 July, the 47th Pennsylvanians purposefully avoided both Forts Taylor and Jefferson due to a raging yellow fever outbreak, according to Wharton, who added:

In one week from the day we started we reached Fortress Monroe [Thursday, July 14]. Gen. [McMillan] went ashore to report, where he received orders to push on to Washington. It was here we received the first intimation of the rebel raid into Maryland and the supposed danger to which Washington was exposed. The boys were anxious to move forward that they might participate in any punishment that would be given the rebels.

Arrival in Virginia

According to C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, “Pleasant weather attended the voyage,” and the McClellan finally steamed into Hampton Roads, Virginia on the afternoon of 11 July. The next morning, he and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians headed for Washington. While disembarked briefly at Fort Stevens, they saw President Lincoln in the flesh, and thrilled to the pomp befitting the arrival of a battle-tested regiment. Their trip down the Potomac while aboard the Creole was described by both Nichols and Wharton in their writings of 15 July as “splendid.”

As they passed Washington’s tomb, wrote Wharton, “the band of the 47th played ‘Hail Columbia’, and several national airs, while the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ on the stern of the McClellan was lowered and hoisted in salute.” After disembarking at the wharf on 7th Street, the regiment then marched up Pennsylvania Avenue, “out past the President’s house to Georgetown, and then on to this place where we bivouacked…. The 47th had disembarked and took up its line of march, arriving at Tenleytown, located about two miles north of Georgetown. The weather had been very hot, and the regiment remained in camp at Tenleytown until 3PM on Saturday.”

Nichols confirmed that the regiment started its march toward Washington at daylight, and observed that their new assignment:

Seems More like life hear then down South. We past fort Washington about 12 M. and Sighted the Capitol and Alexandria at the Same time. arrived at Washington at about one oclock PM disembarked about three Got coffee and crackers at the Sanitary Commissions. Started on the March at Six oclock PM. Marched through Washington and Georgetown to Tenlatown [Tenleytown] about Eight Miles and Bivouac for the Night at Nine oclock PM.

In his History of the Nineteenth Army Corps, Richard B. Irwin confirmed that the 47th Pennsylvania’s main detachment had indeed arrived at Tenleytown by mid-July:

About 3,600 men of Emory’s division had landed at Washington during the 12th and 13th of July, increasing the effective force of the Nineteenth Corps to about 4,200, most of whom spent the night in following the windings of the road that marks the long outline of northern fortifications.

 This grouping, explained Irwin, arrived as follows:

On the 13th of July the Clinton arrived at Washington with the 29th Maine and part of the 13th Maine, the St. Mary with the 8th Vermont, the Corinthian with the remaining six companies of the 114th New York, the Mississippi with the 90th and 116th New York and the 30th Massachusetts, the Creole with the 47th Pennsylvania. As the detachments landed they were hurried, in most instances by long and needless circuits to Tennallytown, where they found themselves at night without supplies or wagons, without orders, and without much organization.

 …. Out of this Grant brought order by assigning Wright to conduct the pursuit of Early. When, therefore, on the morning of the 13th Wright found Early gone from his front, he marched after him with the Sixth Corps, and ordered the detachment of the Nineteenth Corps to follow. Grant wished Wright to push on to Edwards Ferry to cut off Early’s retreat across the Potomac.

On 16 July, the 47th Pennsylvanians joined in crossing the Potomac with their fellow members of the 19th Corps, 1st Division, under Brigadier-General Emory, along with the U.S. 6th Corps at White’s Ford, the spot on the Potomac at which Early’s troops had just managed to evade the Union’s pursuit and escape to Leesburg, Virginia. The 19th Corpsmen then trekked roughly three miles past Leesburg into the Catoctin Mountains, pitched their tents at Clark’s Gap, and provided support to the Union forces led by Major-General David Hunter as Hunter’s group began flanking Early’s Army.

Unfortunately, Early’s men escaped once again, and headed again for the Shenandoah Valley – this time, marching through Snicker’s Gap.

According to the U.S. National Park Service:

A Union column, consisting of the VI Corps and elements of the XIX Corps under Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright, pursued Early’s army as it withdrew from the environs of Washington, D.C.  Wright’s force was joined by elements of Crook’s command, which had accompanied Hunter during his retreat through West Virginia.  On July 17, the Union cavalry passed through Snickers Gap and attempted to force passage of the Shenandoah River at Snickers Ford (Castleman’s Ferry). On the morning of July 18, the vanguard of the Union infantry moved through Snickers Gap. Col. Joseph Thoburn (of Crook’s command) led his division downstream to cross the river at Judge Richard Parker’s Ford. Early’s three nearby infantry divisions moved to defend the fords. In the afternoon, Rodes’s division attacked and shattered Thoburn’s right flank on the Cool Spring plantation. Thoburn made a stand behind a stone wall at the river’s edge and beat off three attacks until darkness enabled him to withdraw. Union pursuit of Early was delayed several days.

 On 18 July 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania became one of those Union regiments tasked with entering the Shenandoah Valley via Snicker’s Gap. While there, the regiment engaged the enemy in the Battle of Cool Spring, Virginia (also known as the Battle of Snicker’s Gap). Converging on Early’s larger Confederate Army of 8,000 from three sides (front, flank and rear) as part of the smaller Union force of 5,000 men, the 47th Pennsylvania helped inspire the Rebel retreat to Strasburg from 19-20 July.

Chain Bridge Across the Potomac Above Georgetown Looking Toward Virginia, 1861 (The Illustrated London News, public domain).

Chain Bridge across the Potomac above Georgetown looking toward Virginia, 1861 (The Illustrated London News, public domain).

Returning to Leesburg, the Union troops encamped at Goose Creek before heading back to Washington, D.C. on 22 July. After crossing the Chain Bridge the next day, the 47th Pennsylvania’s Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I and their fellow 19th Corpsmen established a new camp “on the high ground overlooking the Potomac near Battery Vermont,” thereby ending “the ‘Snicker’s Gap war,” according to Irwin. (Casualties – Union: 422; Confederate: 397.)

Through the Eyes of a 47th Pennsylvanian

 In recounting the Battle of Cool Spring, Wharton delineated the actions of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers as follows:

The 6th Corps crossed the Potomac on Saturday, previous to which they overtook the rear guard of the enemy at Poolesville, a section of artillery with cavalry pressed forward and vigorously shelled the enemy from several positions. The corps overtook them at Snicker’s Gap. Though the gap might have been successfully held, it was evacuated without much delay, and our infantry took possession. The enemy held possession of the other bank of the Shenandoah River, one mile distant.

A part of Hunter’s command, to the number of five thousand, were ordered to the river, which they crossed in face of the enemy’s fire. After the force had crossed, the enemy attempted a flank movement on their right and left, but Adams’ Rhode Island Battery came into position on an eminence overlooking the valley below. They immediately opened upon the enemy with shot and shell from the three inch rifled guns, creating great havoc among them. The range was accurate and each shell burst in their midst. The enemy finding the damage to their infantry so great, attempted to silence the battery by firing upon them with twenty pound parrots, which however, lasted but a moment, as they in turn were fired upon and forced to silence. Night coming on our infantry recrossed the river to come under the batteries. At this point we lost a number in killed and wounded; a few were drowned in getting off the proper ford. Among the wounded I noticed Ed. M. Shindel, son of Rev. Jeremiah Shindel, and nephew of H. B. Masser, Esq. I am happy to state that his wound is so slight that it will scarcely keep him from duty….

Instead of going to Grant in front of Petersburg, as we expected, orders were issued sending the 6th and 19th Corps up through Maryland in quest of rebels. On the route I conversed with many farmers who had been deprived of property by the chivalry in their late raid and all of them agree in the abhorrence with which they hold the raiders, and are no ways particular in their speech concerning them. A gentleman told me they came not as warriors, but as the lower class of robbers, resorting to petty larceny, and were so mean that they even asked ladies for the ear drops worn as ornaments. At a farmer’s where they had stolen eight horses, a young lady sad that the ‘low fellows wanted papa to take the boots off his feet to give them.’

We are to move forward after the enemy, but whether it will be before the arrival of three of our companies, who could not get passage with us, I cannot tell. From what I can learn we will move towards the Point of Rocks. The raiders have, or are attempting to cross the Potomac at Rockville.

 The diary of E Company’s George Nichols adds further color to Wharton’s words, indicating that on that Saturday, the 47th:

Received three days Rations. Started on the March at three oclock PM. Plenty of Good cool water along the Road. I Picked Some Green appels and ate them the first I Seen for two years and Six Month on trees Marched the distance of fourteen Miles and Encamped at half past ten oclock PM.

 The next Sunday, Nichols reported that he was:

 acting left Genl. Guide to the Regtment and I are not compelled to carry a Gun so in the wagon it Goes. it will be easier for Me. we Started on the tramp at Eight AM very hot and dusty at twelve M. half of the Redgt. Was Stragling be hind and when we Got to the Potomac our company Musterd only Nine Men offercers and all. The rest was Played out. We came fourteen Miles to Kelleysford [sic] arrived at three PM. We are Ordered Back to Washington’. On Monday the ‘order [was] contermanded So we Started at four oclock AM croost the River to Virginia Side the Water was three feet deep. But we forderd her all the Same We Struck the leesburg pike whent through leesburg. hamiltonn and Perserville at four PM. We caught the Rear Guard of the army and at twelve oclock Midnight we came to our division after Marching about Twenty Eight Miles. We Passed through Snickers Gap and Encamped in the Vally at Twelve oclock PM.

Kelly's Ford on the Rappahannock River (Edwin Forbes, 10 February 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain)

Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River (Edwin Forbes, 10 February 1864, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Wharton’s writings back up Nichols’ account of the Kelly’s Ford experience, and also confirm that the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I) did indeed engage in the Battle of Cool Spring/Snicker’s Gap:

The second day’s march brought us to the Potomac at Kelly’s Ford, which we crossed by wading, proceeded on our way to Leesburg, making Snicker’s Gap, where we joined the 6th Army Corps and the balance of our division of the 19th. The 6th boys are some on a march, but were completely taken by surprise when they learned we had crossed the Potomac that morning after sunrise, thinking it was impossible for troops to make what they did not, thirty miles on a hard pike.

On the Move Again

By late July, Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I from the 47th Pennsylvania were on the move again with Emory’s Army. Encamped the night of 26 July in Maryland “on the Frederick road, four miles north of Rockville, after a march of nineteen miles,” according to Irwin, they departed at 3 a.m. the next morning, marching another fifteen miles to a site just beyond Hyattstown. “On the 28th Emory took the road at five, marched to Monocacy Junction, where the Sixth Corps crossed the Monocacy, then filed to the right, and crossed at the upper ford, and passing through Frederick went into bivouac four miles beyond.”

They had trekked another 13 miles.

“On the 29th, an intensely hot day,” wrote Irwin, “Emory marched at eight, following the Sixth Corps, crossed the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry, marched nineteen miles, and went into bivouac at Halltown.” Following another 13-mile march on 31 July – back into and across the Catoctin Mountains – Emory ordered his exhausted men to make camp at 1 a.m. near Jefferson.

Just four hours later, they were awakened by bugle call and sent on the march again at 6 a.m. Thirteen miles later, they pitched their tents along the Emmitsburg Road, roughly two miles past Frederick. Their duties involved “holding the line of the Monocacy and observing the passes of the South Mountain,” according to Irwin.

Meanwhile, Captain Henry S. Harte and the men from Companies B, G and K were finally making their own East Coast arrival.

A Regiment Reunited

Having sailed from Louisiana aboard the Blackstone and, according to Schmidt, “after first stopping enroute [sic] at Bermuda Hundred, under temporary assignment to the Army of the James, with the Second Division of the 19th Corps,” Captain Harte and the men of Companies B, G and K arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and finally reconnected with the bulk of their regiment in Maryland at Monocacy on 2 August 1864.

On 6 August, Emory’s men crossed back over the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, preceded and followed, respectively, by the Union forces led by brigadier-generals George R. Crook and John B. Ricketts. “Hunter took up his position covering Halltown and proceeded to strengthen its entrenchments,” according to Irwin, while “Crook’s left rested on the Shenandoah, Emory extended the line to the turnpike road, and Wright carried it to the Potomac.”

But once again, a major shakeup in the top level of Union leadership was underway. Explained Irwin:

Grant had already proposed to unite in a single command the four distinct departments covering the theatre of war on the Shenandoah and on the upper Potomac; as the commander he had first suggested Franklin and afterward Meade. Now, since no action had followed either suggestion, he sent up Sheridan, meaning to place him in command of all the active forces of these four departments, for the purpose of overthrowing Early or expelling him from the Shenandoah. Upon learning this, Hunter, to remove the difficulty, asked to be relieved; and thus, on the 7th of August, Grant gained his wish, and an order was issued by the War Department, creating the Middle Military Division, to include Washington, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and part of Ohio, and Sheridan was assigned to the command.

 The stage was now set for Major-General Philip Sheridan’s tide-turning, 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

 

Sources:

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

2. Battle of Snicker’s Gap/Battle of Cool Spring, 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. Gobin, Companion J. P. S. Lincoln Under Fire, in records of the Memorial Meeting held on 13 February 1907, in Abraham Lincoln. Philadelphia: Commandery of the State of Pennsylvania, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1907-1911.

5. Irwin, Richard Bache. History of the Nineteenth Army Corps. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893.

6. 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.

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

8. The Battle of Cool Spring. Washington, D.C.: Civil War Trust, retrieved online 1 September 2016.

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

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

 

A Voyage North and a Memorable Encounter with Abraham Lincoln

Pres. Abraham Lincoln at Fort Stevens, July 1864 (public domain illustration).

Pres. Abraham Lincoln at Fort Stevens, 12 July 1864 (public domain illustration).

With the Union’s Red River Campaign across Louisiana finally over by June of 1864, their supplies replenished, their dead buried, and the traumatic injuries of their wounded on the mend by early July, it was time for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers to move on. Still part of the 2nd Brigade of Brigadier General William Dwight’s 1st Division in Brigadier General William H. Emory’s 19th U.S. Army Corps, Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I received orders on the 4th of July to leave Companies B, G and K behind and march for Algiers, Louisiana. Boarding the U.S. Steamer McClellan there on Thursday, 7 July 1864, the bulk of 47th Pennsylvanians then sailed away from the docks at 1 p.m.

According to a diary entry made that day by Corporal George R. Nichols of E Company, the regiment was forced to leave behind those three companies because the McClellan simply did not have enough space for the entire regiment. Noting that they had been ordered to begin packing at 6 a.m. that morning for the march to the steamer, he said “about Nine hundred men was Shoved on her.”

Note: Left behind in Morganza, Louisiana under the command of F Company Captain Henry S. Harte to await additional transportation, Companies B, G, and K sailed later that same month aboard the Blackstone, made a brief stop at Bermuda Hundred, arrived in the Washington, D.C. area on 28 July 1864, and reconnected with the remainder of the regiment and the 19th Corps three days later in Maryland at Monocacy.

Carrying sealed orders with instructions that they be opened and read only after the McClellan had traveled “beyond the bar,” Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I sailed in the dark – figuratively and literally. “The passage down the Mississippi was mostly at night, so I am unable to give you a description of it. An expedition was on the move but what point no one outside of headquarters was able to tell. It was a secret move,” wrote C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton to his hometown newspaper. He and his superiors were among the many who speculated that the regiment was headed for new duties near Mobile, Alabama which would place them under the command of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Note: This speculation proved to be completely off the mark, and would result in the utterly incorrect “documentation” by numerous genealogists, historians and news reporters which persists even today that the 47th Pennsylvania had participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea and the burning of Atlanta when the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were nowhere near Sherman and his troops during those incidents.

The initial secrecy was a smart move, observed Wharton, “for the destination of former expeditions was known weeks before embarking, and by the time the troops reached the point to which they were ordered, the rebs were ready to receive them.” New Orleans, he added, was “filled with traitors and spies, ready to do the bidding of Jefferson D.,” making it “necessary that the greatest precaution be used when anything extraordinary is going on.”

After obtaining a new pilot for the steamer at Pilottown, the McClellan continued on. Once the pilot had helped the steamer to clear the bar, the orders were indeed finally opened and, according to Captain Gobin, “the consternation was great when it was discovered we were bound for the Army of the Potomac.”

U.S. Steamer McClellan_Alfred Waud_c. 1860-1865

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c. 1860s, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Still steaming for Washington, the 47th Pennsylvanians lost another of their brotherhood when, on 8 July, Private Jonas Snyder of I Company died from consumption (tuberculosis) and related complications. The 45-year-old Carbon County native was buried at sea with full military honors – sixty miles off America’s coast in the Gulf of Mexico. In recounting the ceremony for Private Snyder, Wharton noted that:

His body was prepared for burial by nicely sewing it up in blankets, with weights attached to make it sink. The funeral was conducted by Chaplain Rodrock, who read the beautiful sea service from the prayer book of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The ‘Flag of our Union’ was at half mast, the boat stopped, and as the sun was hiding in the west, the body was launched into the sea, sinking to rise no more, until the great day comes when the soul must give an account for the ‘deeds’ done in the body.

As the 47th Pennsylvanians grieved their latest loss, the hearts of citizens in Washington City were also troubled as General Jubal Early’s Confederate troops marched their way. According to historian Lewis Schmidt, as the first members of the 19th Corps began arriving at Fortress Monroe in Virginia, “their orders were changed and they were sent on to the Capital.”

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, 10 July, the 47th Pennsylvanians began rounding the tip of Florida, sailing past Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, and on past Key West at 2 p.m. An intense yellow fever epidemic among the locals and remaining soldiers stationed there eliminated all hopes of a short sojourn at Fort Taylor.

According to Captain Gobin, “Pleasant weather attended the voyage,” and the McClellan finally steamed into Hampton Roads, Virginia on the afternoon of 11 July. But before the ship’s anchor could even hit the water, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were receiving new orders – directed to march for Washington, which they did the next morning. Little did they know they would soon have yet another memorable story to be passed down to their grandchildren – and their grandchildren’s grandchildren.

An Encounter with Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Arriving on Horseback at Fort Stevens, 8 July 1864 (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Nespaper, 13 August 1864, public domain).

Lincoln Arrives on Horseback at Fort Stevens, 12 July 1864 (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 13 August 1864, public domain).

In an essay penned in 1907 for the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, The Honorable John Peter Shindel Gobin (now a former Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania), recalled how the majority of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers suddenly realized they were seeing Abraham Lincoln in the flesh during the summer of 1864 – and how an incident that same day which “might have been exceedingly serious in the prosecution of the war” nearly took the life of their beloved Commander-in-Chief as it brought Lincoln “under the actual fire of the enemy in their attack upon Fort Stevens, July 12th, 1864”:

We landed at the Navy Yard, were met by an officer with instructions to move out at once, leaving a detail to look after baggage and horses. Up the avenue and out Seventh St. we at once proceeded, and at intervals were met by handsomely uniformed officers, who urged us to hurry up double quick.

Officers and men moving along discussed the cause of all this, but with no intimation of trouble or information or instructions of what was needed until we heard the sound of artillery and later of musketry.

There appeared to be no unusual commotion in Washington – few people on the streets – nothing to indicate the presence of an enemy, until the sound of firing was heard. The day was very hot the column marched along until Fort Stevens was reached, when, to the great surprise of every one, it was evident that a fight was going on at the front. We halted, and then began the inquiry, ‘What’s up? Are those Johnnies? Where’s Grant?’

Fort Stevens, explained Gobin, “was an earthwork in a line of fortifications built for the defense of Washington. It was a strong earthwork, and apparently easily protected. The guns were mounted en-barbette and were all of heavy caliber.” While waiting for new orders, members of the 47th struck up a conversation with an officer from another Union regiment and were told, “’Old Abe’s in the Fort.’”

This was so startling, as it was repeated from file to file, that everybody made a rush to get near enough to see him. There was no mistaking him. His tall figure and high hat made him prominent, and I think every man of the regiment had a look at him.

Our Corps badge resembled that of the 5th Corps, and to many inquiries, ‘Do you belong to the 5th Corps?’ the answer was, ‘No, to the 19th.’ Considerable curiosity was evinced to know where the 19th Corps was from, and great surprise was expressed as to how we had gotten there from New Orleans, as it was stated, just in time.

In the meantime, numerous officers had been circulating around, various orders had been received, but nobody seemed to know what to do with us, and the regiment stood awaiting definite instructions.

At last it came, to move out to the left and deploy, move forward and connect with Bidwell’s Brigade. As we came into line and moved out, a young staff officer rode down the line, shouting, ‘You are going into action under the eye of the President! He wants to see how you can fight.’ The answer was a shout and a rush. We met with but little opposition. A sparse picket line of dismounted cavalry got out of the way readily, other regiments came in on our left. We did not meet Bidwell’s Brigade, but passed over their battle ground, until, after nightfall, we passed over some of the ground they had fought over, and recognized the red cross of the 1st Division, 6th Corps, as being the fighters. They had evidently been on the extreme left of the line in action. We bivouacked that night near the remains of a burnt house which was said to be Montgomery Blair’s.

The fighting was virtually over before we arrived, but the camp was full of stories during the night as to what had occurred at Fort Stevens while the President was there. Evidently that fort was within the range of the artillery and the skirmishers of the Rebel Army, and it was rumored that General H. G. Wright had positively ordered the President to get out of the range of danger after an officer had been shot by his side.

Mr. Chittenden, Register of the Treasury, in his account of it says that when he reached the Fort, he found the President, Secretary Stanton and other civilians. A young colonel of the artillery, who appeared to be the officer of the day, was in great distress because the President would expose himself and paid little attention to his warnings.  He was satisfied the Confederates had recognized him, for they were firing at him very hotly, and a soldier near him had just fallen with a broken thigh. He asked my advice, says Chittenden, for he said the President was in great danger. After some consultation the young officer walked to where the President was looking over the edge of the parapet and said, ‘Mr. President, you are standing within range of 500 Rebel rifles. Please come down to a safer place. If you do not it will be my duty to call a file of men and make you.’

‘And you would do quite right, my boy,’ said the President, coming down at once, ‘you are in command of this fort. I should be the last man to set an example of disobedience.’ He was shown to a place where the view was less extended, but where there was almost no exposure. As Mr. Chittenden was present and speaks from personal knowledge, I assume this to be a correct statement.

I have recently seen a publication in which an officer, claiming to be on the staff of General Upton, describes the President as having halted at the side of the road, and with having been struck by a stray bullet. No mention of it is made in any of the accounts hitherto published of his presence. Certain it is, he was in the Fort and not in the road when we reached there. There were no other troops except those in the trenches and in the Fort at that time, and my recollection is that it must have been after dinner, the fight well over as, although we went in immediately and rapidly, we had no serious casualties. Our Brig.-General came to us, as he said, as soon as he could get a horse, and halted us for the night.

 The 47th Pennsylvanians could breathe a sigh of genuine relief when they were all finally reunited in late July of 1864. President Abraham Lincoln was still safe – and the boys from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I had gotten a very good look at him.

 

Sources:

1. Gobin, Companion J. P. S. Lincoln Under Fire, in records of the Memorial Meeting held on 13 February 1907, in Abraham Lincoln. Philadelphia: Commandery of the State of Pennsylvania, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1907-1911.

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

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

 

RED RIVER CAMPAIGN (Louisiana, March to May 1864)

February-March 1864:

 "For twenty minutes a continual roar of musketry was heard, reports of artillery shook the earth and the air seemed filled with the whiz of shells and bullets, commingled with the cheers of the men engaged in deadly strife…." - Henry D. Wharton, Company C, regarding the Battle of Opequan (19 September 1864)

First State Color, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers; carried during the Red River Campaign across Louisiana, March-May 1864.

On 25 February 1864, the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry sets off for a phase of service in which the regiment will truly make history. Steaming for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, the men of the 47th arrive at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February and are then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – this time to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joins the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, the 47th becomes the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union Major General Nathaniel P. Banks. The 1st Division of the U.S. Army’s 19th Corps is commanded by Brigadier General William Hemsley Emory. The 2nd Brigade is led by Brigadier General James W. McMillan.

From 14-26 March, the 47th marches through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. Often short on food and water, a number of men from the regiment become ill during the grueling marches in the harsh Louisiana climate while others are felled by dysentery and/or tropical diseases.

6 April 1864:

Nathaniel P. Banks. Major General, U.S. Volunteers (1863, U.S. National Archives, public domain).

Nathaniel P. Banks, Major General, U.S. Volunteers (1863, U.S. National Archives, public domain).

Union Major General Nathaniel P. Banks sends his Union troops west via a single road. The column of men stretches for 20+ miles.

Heading the column are roughly 4,000 cavalrymen led by Brigadier General Albert Lindley Lee. Most are newbies who have little experience on horseback. They are followed by 300 supply wagons, artillery units, one infantry division, 700 additional support wagons, and most of the 13th and 19th Corps.

As they move, they move west, marching toward Los Adaes, Louisiana, and then north on the Shreveport-Natchitoches stagecoach road. The column is SO long and SO slow moving that the troops at its head reach Pleasant Hill before the last men have even left Natchitoches, Louisiana.

7 April 1864:

Union cavalry troops of Major General Nathaniel Banks begin their march. Led by Brigadier General Albert Lee, their progress is slowed by Union wagons. Lee’s requests for infantry support plus redirection of the wagons is denied by Banks and leaders of the U.S. Army’s 19th Corps.

8 April 1864 (morning):

Union Major General Nathaniel Banks’ Cavalry, led by Brigadier General Albert Lee, crosses a stream, and moves through trees and fields. In the distance, atop a ridge, Lee spots Confederate cavalry and infantry which stretch along both sides of the road for 3/4 mile. After he spots more Confederate cavalry troops to his right, he asks for help from Banks. After taking his time, Banks finally orders the 13th U.S. Army to move up to assist Lee’s cavalry. Banks also moves up to see what’s happening.

Major General Richard Taylor, CSA (c. 1860s, public domain).

Major General Richard Taylor, CSA (c. 1860s, public domain).

Arrayed before him in the distance are roughly 10,000 troops led by Confederate Major General Richard Taylor, a plantation owner and son of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor. (Ironically, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had just spent a significant period of time – off and on between 1862 to early 1864 – garrisoning Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Florida.)

It’s the morning of April 8, 1864, the day of the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads near Mansfield, Louisiana.

Confederate Taylor and his 10,000 troops expect Banks’ Union forces to charge – but they don’t. A six-hour waiting game ensues.

8 April 1864 (afternoon and evening):

At 4 p.m. Louisiana time, Confederate Major General Richard Taylor’s left flank slowly begins an echelon formation attack on troops commanded by Union Major General Nathaniel Banks, and the Union’s cavalry line buckles. BUT, in the process, 11 out of 14 Confederate officers are killed in action within 14 minutes of the opening charge.

Replacing one of those fallen Confederate leaders is Brigadier General Camille Armand Jules Marie, the Prince de Polignac. A Prince of France, he fought with the Confederate Army during America’s Civil War, and is an important name for descendants of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and others studying the 47th’s history because, later that same day, forces led by Polignac and Confederate Brigadier General Thomas Green (Texas Cavalry Corps) directly engage in battle with the 47th Pennsylvania.

Good, Tilghman HThe 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers are led by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, the regiment’s founder, and his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George Warren Alexander.

Following the charge by Taylor’s Confederate troops and the resulting buckling of the Union’s right flank, Banks’ left Union flank also collapses. Taylor’s troops continue on, puncturing a secondary Union position 3/4 mile behind the Union’s front line.

Banks then orders Brigadier General William Emory to move his 1st Division, 19th U.S. Army Corps men to the front. Among Emory’s 5,859 men were nine New York regiments, three from Maine – and the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Ninety minutes and seven miles of marching later, Emory’s men are waiting for the Confederates on the ridge above Chapman’s Bayou.

* Note: The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were positioned behind the 161st New York, 29th Maine, and other Union regiments at/near the farm of Joshua Chapman, about five miles southeast of Mansfield, Louisiana. The battles here were termed the “Peach Orchard” fight by Confederates and “Pleasant Grove” by 47th Pennsylvanians, a name attributed by some historians to the live oak trees in front of Chapman’s house. The fighting at the peach orchard was particularly brutal.

19th U.S. Army Map, Phase 3, Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield, Louisiana (8 April 1864, public domain).

19th U.S. Army Map, Phase 3, Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield, Louisiana (8 April 1864, public domain).

As Confederates, led by Polignac, et. al. attack the center of the Union line, the 161st buckles, but the 29th Maine is able to repulse the Confederates. Green’s Confederate cavalrymen then attempt an end run on the Union’s right flank. His troops include: Brigadier General Xavier DeBray’s Cavalry Brigade (composed of the 26th and 36th Texas Cavalry) and Colonel Augustus Buchel’s Cavalry Brigade (composed of the 1st Texas Cavalry and Terrell’s Texas Cavalry).

Initially positioned to the right of the 13th Maine Infantry, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and 13th Maine both pinwheel to head off Green’s attack, and end Green’s flanking effort.

As darkness falls on 8 April 1864, fighting wanes and then ceases as exhausted troops on both sides collapse between the bodies of their dead comrades. Seventy-four men were killed in action, at least 161 are wounded, and hundreds more are declared missing in action, including 188 from the 19th U.S. Army (to which the 47th Pennsylvania was attached). Some of these missing men (including men from the 47th Pennsylvania) are eventually found wounded or dead; others (including 47th Pennsylvanians) end up as prisoners of war (POWs), at Camp Ford, a Confederate prison near Tyler, Texas, but some remain missing to this day.

* Note: Some historians believe that these missing men may have been hastily interred somewhere on or near the battlefield by fellow soldiers or local residents, but no remains were found during archaeological excavations of the area during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In 1996, L.P. Hecht, in his Echoes from the Letters of a Civil War Surgeon, reported that wild hogs had eaten the remains of at least some of the federal soldiers who had been left unburied.

8 April 1864 (late evening):

Receiving word of another likely attack, Banks orders his Union troops to withdraw Pleasant Hill (not to be confused with the aforementioned Pleasant Grove). This withdrawal commences after midnight and through the early hours of 9 April 1864. According to Banks:

From Pleasant Grove, where this action occurred, to Pleasant Hill was 15 miles. It was certain that the enemy, who was within the reach of re-enforcements, would renew the attack in the morning, and it was wholly uncertain whether the command of General Smith could reach the position we held in season for a second engagement. For this reason the army toward morning fell back to Pleasant Hill, General Emory covering the rear, burying the dead, bringing off the wounded, and all the material of the army. It arrived there at 8.30 on the morning of the 9th, effecting a junction with the forces of General Smith and the colored brigade under Colonel Dickey, which had reached that point the evening previous.

9 April 1864 (morning):

Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, 9 April 1864 (Harper's Weekly, 7 May 1864, public domain).

Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, 9 April 1864 (Harper’s Weekly, 7 May 1864, public domain).

Arriving at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana around 8:30 a.m., and with the enemy believed to be in pursuit, Union Major General Nathaniel Banks orders his troops to regroup and ready themselves for a new round of fighting.

The Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana is just hours from its start. In his official Red River Campaign Report penned a year later, Banks described how the day unfolded:

A line of battle was formed in the following order: First Brigade, Nineteenth Corps, on the right, resting on a ravine; Second Brigade in the center, and Third Brigade on the left. The center was strengthened by a brigade of General Smith’s forces, whose main force was held in reserve. The enemy moved toward our right flank. The Second Brigade[including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers] withdrew from the center to the support of the First Brigade. The brigade in support of the center moved up into position, and another of General Smith’s brigades was posted to the extreme left position on the hill, in echelon to the rear of the left main line.

Light skirmishing occurred during the afternoon. Between 4 and 5 o’clock it increased in vigor, and about 5 p.m., when it appeared to have nearly ceased, the enemy drove in our skirmishers and attacked in force, his first onset being against the left. He advanced in two oblique lines, extending well over toward the right of the Third Brigade, Nineteenth Corps. After a determined resistance this part of the line gave way and went slowly back to the reserves. The First and Second Brigades were soon enveloped in front, right, and rear. By skillful movements of General Emory the flanks of the two brigades, now bearing the brunt of the battle, were covered. The enemy pursued the brigades, passing the left and center, until he approached the reserves under General Smith, when he was met by a charge led by General Mower and checked. The whole of the reserves were now ordered up, and in turn we drove the enemy, continuing the pursuit until night compelled us to halt.

The battle of the 9th was desperate and sanguinary. The defeat of the enemy was complete, and his loss in officers and men more than double that sustained by our forces. There was nothing in the immediate position or condition of the two armies to prevent a forward movement the next morning, and orders were given to prepare for an advance. The train, which had been turned to the rear on the day of the battle, was ordered to reform and advance at daybreak. I communicated this purpose at the close of the day to General A. J. Smith, who expressed his concurrence therein. But representations subsequently received from General Franklin and all the general officers of the Nineteenth Corps, as to the condition of their respective commands for immediate active operations against the enemy, caused a suspension of this order, and a conference of the general officers was held in the evening, in which it was determined, upon the urgent recommendation of all the general officers above named, and with the acquiescence of General Smith, to retire upon Grand Ecore the following day. The reasons urged for this course by the officers commanding the Nineteenth and Thirteenth Corps were, first, that the absence of water made it absolutely necessary to advance or retire without delay. General Emory’s command [including the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers] had been without rations for two days, and the train, which had been turned to the rear during the battle, could not be put in condition to move forward upon the single road through dense woods, in which it stood, without difficulty and loss of time. It was for the purpose of communicating with the fleet at Springfield Landing from the Sabine Cross-Roads to the river, as well as to prevent the concentration of the Texan troops with the enemy at Mansfield, that we had pushed for the early occupation of that point. Considering the difficulty with which the gun-boats passed Alexandria and Grand Ecore, there was every reason to believe that the navigation of the river would be found impracticable. A squadron of cavalry, under direction of Mr. Young, who had formerly been employed in the surveys of this country and was now connected with the engineer department, which had been sent upon a reconnaissance to the river, returned to Pleasant Hill on the day of the battle with the report that they had not been able to discover the fleet nor learn from the people its passage up the river. (The report of General T. Kilby Smith, commanding the river forces, states that the fleet did not arrive at Loggy Bayou until 2 p.m. on the 10th of April, two days after the battle at Sabine Cross-Roads.) This led to the belief that the low water had prevented the advance of the fleet. The condition of the river, which had been steadily falling since our march from Alexandria, rendered it very doubtful, if the fleet ascended the river, whether it could return from any intermediate point, and probable, if not certain, that if it reached Shreveport it would never escape without a rise of the river, of which all hopes began to fail. The forces designated for this campaign numbered 42,000 men. Less than half that number was actually available for service against the enemy during its progress.

The distance which separated General Steele’s command from the line of our operations (nearly 200 miles) rendered his movements of little moment to us or to the enemy, and reduced the strength of the fighting column to the extent of his force, which was expected to be from 10,000 to 15,000 men. The depot at Alexandria, made necessary by the impracticable navigation, withdrew from our forces 3,000 men under General Grover. The return of the Marine Brigade to the defense of the Mississippi, upon the demand of Major-General McPherson, and which could not pass Alexandria without its steamers nor move by land for want of land transportation, made a further reduction of 3,000 men. The protection of the fleet of transports against the enemy on both sides of the river made it necessary for General A. J. Smith to detach General T. Kilby Smith’s division of 2,500 men from the main body for that duty. The army train required a guard of 500 men. These several detachments, which it was impossible to avoid, and the distance of General Steele’s command, which it was not in my power to correct, reduced the number of troops that we were able at any point to bring into action from 42,000 men to about 20,000. The losses sustained in the very severe battles of the 7th, 8th, and 9th of April amounted to about 3,969 men, and necessarily reduced our active forces to that extent.

The enemy, superior to us in numbers in the outset, by falling back was able to recover from his great losses by means of re-enforcements, which were within his reach as he approached his base of operations, while we were growing weaker as we departed from ours. We had fought the battle at Pleasant Hill with about 15,000 against 22,000 men and won a victory, which for these reasons we were unable to follow up. Other considerations connected with the actual military condition of affairs afforded additional reasons for the course recommended. Between the commencement of the expedition and the battle of Pleasant Hill a change had occurred in the general command of the army, which caused a modification of my instructions in regard to this expedition.

Lieutenant-General Grant, in a dispatch dated the 15th March, which I received on the 27th March, at Alexandria, eight days before we reached Grand Ecore, by special messenger, gave me the following instructions:

‘Should you find that the taking of Shreveport will occupy ten or fifteen days more time than General Sherman gave his troops to be absent from their command you will send them back at the time specified in his note of (blank date) March, even if it should lead to the abandonment of the main object of the expedition. Should it prove successful, hold Shreveport and Red River with such force as you deem necessary and return the balance of your troops to the neighborhood of New Orleans.’

These instructions, I was informed, were given for the purpose of having ‘all parts of the army, or rather all armies, act as much in concert as possible,’ and with a view to a movement in the spring campaign against Mobile, which was certainly to be made ‘if troops enough could be obtained without embarrassing other movements; in which event New Orleans would be the point of departure for such an expedition.’ A subsequent dispatch, though it did not control, fully justified my action, repeated these general views and stated that the commanding general ‘would much rather the Red River expedition had never been begun that that you should be detained one day beyond the 1st of May in commencing the movement east of the Mississippi.’

The limitation of time referred to in these dispatches was based upon an opinion which I had verbally expressed to General Sherman at New Orleans, that General Smith could be spared in thirty days after we reached Alexandria, but it was predicted upon the expectation that the navigation of the river would be unobstructed; that we should advance without delay at Alexandria, Grand Ecore, or elsewhere on account of low water, and that the forces of General Steele were to co-operate with us effectively at some point on Red River, near Natchitoches or Monroe. It was never understood that an expedition that involved on the part of my command a land march of nearly 400 miles into the enemy’s country, and which terminated at a point which we might not be able to hold, either on account of the strength of the enemy or the difficulties of obtaining supplies, was to be limited to thirty days. The condition of our forces, and the distance and difficulties attending the further advance into the enemy’s country after the battles of the 8th and 9th against an enemy superior in numbers to our own, rendered it probable that we could not occupy Shreveport within the time specified, and certain that without a rise in the river the troops necessary to hold it against the enemy would be compelled to evacuate it for want of supplies, and impossible that the expedition should return in any event to New Orleans in time to co-operate in the general movements of the army contemplated for the spring campaign. It was known at this time that the fleet could not repass the rapids at Alexandria, and it was doubtful, if the fleet reached any point above Grand Ecore, whether it would be able to return. By falling back to Grand Ecore we should be able to ascertain the condition of the fleet, the practicability of continuing the movement by the river, reorganize a part of the forces that had been shattered in the battles of the 7th, 8th, and 9th, possibly ascertain the position of General Steele and obtain from him the assistance expected for a new advance north of the river or upon its southern bank, and perhaps obtain definite instructions from the Government as to the course to be pursued.

Upon these general considerations, and without reference to the actual condition of the respective armies, at 12 o’clock midnight on the 9th I countermanded the order for the return of the train, and directed preparations to be made for the return of the army to Grand Ecore. The dead were buried and the wounded brought in from the field of battle and placed in the most comfortable hospitals that could be provided, and surgeons and supplies furnished for them. A second squadron of cavalry was sent, under direction of Mr. Young, of the engineer department, to inform the fleet of our retrograde movement and to direct its return, if it had ascended the river, and on the morning of the 10th the army leisurely returned to Grand Ecore.

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had been ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines that day (9 April 1864), their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. According to Bates, after fighting off a charge by the troops of Confederate Major General Richard Taylor, the 47th was forced to bolster the buckling lines of the 165th New York Infantry – just as the 47th was shifting to the left of the massed Union forces.

The regiment sustained heavy casualties during the Battle of Pleasant Hill. The regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, was severely wounded in both legs. Regimental Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls and Sergeant William Pyers both sustained gunshot wounds.

Color-Sergeant Walls, the oldest man in the regiment, was shot in the left shoulder as he was mounting the 47th’s flag on one of the Massachusetts artillery caissons that had been recaptured by the 47th. Sergeant Pyers was then shot while retrieving the American flag from Walls, thereby preventing it falling into enemy hands. Both men survived and continued to fight for the 47th – Walls until his three-year term of service expired on 18 September 1864, Pyers until he was killed in action just over a month later during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia.

Many others were less fortunate. Hastily buried by comrades or local citizens, several still rest in unknown graves.

In addition, more men from the 47th Pennsylvania were captured and marched off to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, becoming the only soldiers from any Pennsylvania regiment to have men imprisoned there. At least three 47th Pennsylvanians never made it out alive; the remaining POWs were released in prisoner exchanges which took place from July through the Fall of 1864.

Nearly two decades later, 1st Lieutenant James Hahn recalled his involvement (as a Sergeant) in both engagements for a retrospective article in the 31 January 1884 edition of The National Tribune:

A PENNSYLVANIA SOLDIER’S EXPERIENCE.

Lieutenant James Hahn, of the 47th Pennsylvania infantry, writing from Newport, Pa., refers as follows to the engagements at Sabine Cross-roads and Pleasant Hill :

‘The 19th Corps had gone into camp for the evening about four miles from Sabine Cross-Roads. The engagement at Mansfield had been fought by the 13th Corps, who struggled bravely against overwhelming odds until they were driven from the field. I presume the rebel Gen. Dick Taylor knew of the situation of our army, and that the 19th was in the rear of the 13th, and the 16th still in rear of the 19th, some thirteen miles away, encamped at Pleasant Hill. They thought it would be a good joke to whip Banks’ army in detail : first, the 13th corps, then 19th, then finish up on the 16th. But they counted without their hosts; for when the couriers came flying back to the 19th with the news of the sad disaster that had befallen the 13th corps, we were double-quicked a distance of some four miles, and just met the advance of our defeated 13th corps – coming pell-mell, infantry, cavalry, and artillery all in one conglomerated mass, in such a manner as only a defeated and routed army can be mixed up – at Sabine Cross-roads, where our corps was thrown into line just in time to receive the victorious and elated Johnnies with a very warm reception, which gave them a recoil, and which stopped their impetuous headway, and gave the 13th corps time to get safely to the rear. I do not know what would have been the consequence if the 19th had been defeated also, that evening of the 8th, at Sabine Cross-roads, and the victorious rebel army had thrown themselves upon the ‘guerrillas’ then lying in camp at Pleasant Hill. It was just about getting dark when the Johnnies made their last assault upon the lines of the 19tb. We held the field until about midnight, and then fell back and left the picket to hold the line while we joined the 16th at Pleasant Hill the morning of the 9th of April, soon after daybreak. It was not long until the rebel cavalry put in an appearance, and soon skirmishing commenced. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon the engagement become general all along the line, and with varied success, until late in the afternoon the rebels were driven from the field, and were followed until darkness set in, and about midnight our army made a retrograde movement, which ended at Grand Ecore, and left our dead and wounded lying on the field, all of whom fell into rebel hands. I have been informed since by one of our regiment, who was left wounded on the field, that the rebels were so completely defeated that they did not return to the battlefield till late the next day, and I have always been of the opinion that, if the defeat that the rebels got at Pleasant Hill had been followed up, Banks’ army, with the aid of A. J. Smith’s divisions, could have got to Shreveport (the objective point) without much left or hindrance from the rebel army.’

10 April-20 June 1864:

After the regiment resettled in at Grand Ecore, Louisiana, 47th Pennsylvania scribe Henry D. Wharton finally had time to gather his thoughts and pen an account for the Sunbury American of the regiment’s recent battles:

Grand Ecore, Western La. }
April 12, 1864.

DEAR WILVERT:–After lying over for three days at Natchitoches to recruit and get a fresh supply from the Commisariat [sic], we again pushed forward in hunt of the rebs, as the sequel will show, proved lucky to us, and a perfect discomfiture to the enemy. On the first days march we were detained several hours by letting the 13th Army Corps pass by us, when we pushed forward to Double Bridges, a distance of sixteen miles. It was at this place, shortly before our arrival that a brisk skirmish came off between our cavalry and the rebs, in which we lost ninety men in killed and wounded. The rebs loss was more severe, besides a number of prisoners. On our march next day we saw unmistakeable [sic] evidence of hot work, the limbs were knocked from trees and their trunks were well pierced with shot and a number of horses lie dead by the road side, which showed the good work done by our cavalry…. We made Pleasant Hill that day and encamped. It was here that we expected a heavy fight, but there was a mere skirmish, the rebs skedaddling in a hurry, followed by our cavalry. Our forces moved early next morning, the 13th corps far in the advance. We made but seven miles and then went into camp, when the news [broke] that the 13th  and cavalry had engaged the enemy in force. Receiving two days hard tack, orders came to forward, which was done in double quick, making the distance, eight miles, in one hour and twenty minutes. We reached there at the right time, for the 13th had fought hard, expending their ammunition; the cavalry were repulsed and in their retreat made such confusion among the teams, that had it not been for our timely arrival, a panic would have ensued, exceeding that of Bull Run.

Our corps, the 19th, rushed to the rescue, fell into line of battle, and were soon pouring on the rebs a fire which turned the tide of affairs. We were two hours under fire, giving the enemy more than we received, when darkness caused the fight to come to a close, not, however, until we gave them a parting salute of two volleys from the whole corps. Three pieces of Nimm’s battery was [sic] captured by the enemy before our corps got there, besides the train of the cavalry, with ammunition and stores.

About 10 o’clock that night our forces made a retrograde movement, falling back to Pleasant Hill, to secure a better position.– The trains were sent back so as not to interfere with our movements. We arrived safely at nine o’clock, next morning [10 April 1864], and immediately prepared for the coming work. An hour later the rear guard came in informing us of the approach of the enemy.– Our skirmishers of cavalry and infantry were sent out, and ’twas not long until shots were exchanged. At this time, 10 o’clock, Smith’s 16th Army Corps reinforced us, and was soon formed in line of battle. Skirmishing continued until four o’clock, when the rebs commenced feeling our lines, with artillery, on right, left and centre [sic]. This was well replied to by the 25th N.Y. Battery. (The Battery to which Dad Randels and some others of our own boys are attached.)

The battle then commenced in real earnest. The rebs charged our lines, with cheers, firing volleys of musketry that would seem to annihilate our forces. They tried to flank our right and left, but the boys repulsed them handsomely. Batteries were captured and recaptured; advances were made and repulsed, the enemy fighting as though it was the last of a desperate cause. Our volleys of musketry, of which more was used than in any fight during the war, and the executions of the artillery was too much for them, for they fled, our men after them, yelling shouts of victory, and chasing them for five miles beyond the battlefield. Our fire told with terrible effect. A rebel Lieut.-Col. prisoner, said that in a charge made by one of their Brigades, when they advanced so far as to make a capture of a portion of our left a sure thing, they were met by a fire that destroyed four hundred, and then were driven back in confusion. In another advance, our fire was so destructive that only three men were left unscathed to return within their lines.

The prisoners captured amounted to two thousand; among them one General, one Lieutenant-Colonel, and any quantity of Captains and Lieutenants. Of the number killed and wounded I am unable to say, but the general impression is it amounted to over five thousand. The dead body of Lieut.-Gen. Mouton was found on the field, they leaving him in their hasty retreat. He was killed by the explosion of a shell, tearing away the upper portion of his head.

Nimm’s Battery was recaptured by our regiment. Twenty-three pieces of artillery were captured by the enemy. It was at the recaptured of Nimm’s Battery that our Color Sergeant, B. F. Walls, received his wound. The Squire was so well pleased at the recapture, that he rushed forward with his flag and raised it on the wheels of a caisson, when he fell pierced by a bullet in the left shoulder.

It seems the enemy were panic stricken, fleeing from the field in confusion, not caring for the wounded. They burned their entire train for fear of its falling into our hands. Part of this was well for us, for by doing so, the train taken from our cavalry was destroyed, giving us the satisfaction that our stores done [sic] them no good.

Our whole loss, in killed, wounded, missing and stragglers is estimated at three thousand. The greatest portion belonging to the 13th corps, having occurred at Sabine, on the 8th, in the first fight. The loss in Company “C,” is Jeremiah Haas, killed. Jerry felt no pain, dying almost instantly. He was beloved by his comrades, and his loss is much regretted by them. He was a good soldier, a young man whose morals were not injured from the influences of an army, and best of all, an honest man. The wounded are – 

Serg. Wm. Pyers, arm and side, not dangerous.
”  B. F. Walls, left shoulder.
Private Thomas Lothard, two wounds in arm, slight,
”  Cornelius Kramer, left leg, below knee.
”  George Miller, side.
”  Thomas Nipple, hip, slight.
”  James Kennedy, right and side, severe.

Missing – J. W. McNew, J. W. Firth, Samuel Miller, Edward Matthews, John Sterner and Conrad Holman.

The whole force of the enemy was thirty-five thousand – ten thousand of them coming fresh into the fight on the second day, at Pleasant Hill, under General (Pap) Price. Our forces, parts of the 19th and 16th corps, amounted to fifteen thousand, the 13th taking no part in this action. We expect to have another fight soon, probably at Shreveport, where it is expected the rebellion will be crushed on the western side of the Mississippi.

Our wounded are getting along finely, and are in the best of spirits. They will be sent to New Orleans to remain in hospital until convalescent. The boys remaining are well and seem anxious for another encounter with the graybacks.

The 47th Pennsylvanians remained at Grand Ecore for a total of eleven days (through 22 April 1864), where they engaged in the hard labor of strengthening regimental and brigade fortifications in a brutal climate. They then moved back to Natchitoches Parish where they arrived in Cloutierville, after marching 45 miles, at 10 p.m. that night. En route, the Union forces were attacked again – this time in the rear, but they were able to end the encounter fairly quickly and continue on.

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were stationed just to the left of the “Thick Woods” with Emory’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Division for the Battle of Cane River Crossing at Monett’s Ferry, Louisiana, 23 April 1864 (Union Army map, public domain).

The next morning (23 April 1864), episodic skirmishing quickly roared into the flames of a robust fight. As part of the advance party led by Brigadier-General William Emory, the 47th Pennsylvanians took on Brigadier-General Hamilton P. Bee’s Confederate Cavalry in the Battle of Monett’s Ferry (also known as the “Cane River Crossing”).

Affair at Monett’s Bluff, Louisiana, 23 April 1864 (Union Army map, public domain).

Responding to a barrage from the Confederate’s 20-pound Parrott guns and raking fire from enemy troops situated near a bayou and on a bluff, Emory directed one of his brigades to keep Bee’s Confederates busy while sending the other two brigades to find a safe spot where his Union troops could ford the Cane River.

As part of the “beekeepers,” 47th Pennsylvanians supported Emory’s artillery.

Meanwhile, other Emory troops found and worked their way across the Cane River, attacked Bee’s flank, and forced a Rebel retreat. That Union brigade then erected a series of pontoon bridges, enabling the 47th and other remaining Union troops to make the Cane River Crossing by the next day.

As the Confederates retreated, they torched their own food stores, as well as the cotton supplies of their fellow southerners.

Known as "Bailey's Dam" for the Union officer who ordered its construction, Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 was designed to facilitate passage of Union gunboats to and from the Mississippi River. Photo: Public domain.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, the officer supervising its construction, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River in Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 facilitated the passage of Union gunboats (public domain).

Encamping overnight before resuming their march toward Rapides Parish, the 47th Pennsylvanians finally arrived on 26 April in Alexandria, where they camped for 17 more days (through 13 May 1864). While there, they engaged yet again in the hard labor of fortification work, and also helped to build “Bailey’s Dam,” a timber structure that enabled Union gunboats to make their way back down the Red River.

In a follow-up letter penned from the 47th’s encampment at Morganza to the Sunbury American on 29 May 1864, Henry D. Wharton reported on the dam’s construction and other key details from this difficult period of service:

MORGAWZA [sic] BEND, La., May 29, 1864

DEAR WILVERT: – The uncertainty of a mail passing the blockade on the Red river, established by the Johnny Rebs while we were lying at Alexandria, prevented me from writing to you until now; but knowing the anxiety you have for us, I feel justified in commencing from where I dated my last letter, and will give you the ‘dangers we have passed’ as I recollect them.

Our sojourn at Grand Ecore was for eleven days, during which time our position was well fortified by entrenchments for a length of five miles, made of heavy logs, five feet high and six feet wide, filled in with dirt. In front of this, trees were felled for a distance of two hundred yards, so that if the enemy attacked we had an open space before us which would enable our forces to repel them and follow if necessary. But our labor seemed to the men as useless, for on the morning of 22d April, the army abandoned these works and started for Alexandria. From our scouts it was ascertained that the enemy had passed some miles to our left with the intention of making a stand against our right at Bayou Cane, where there is a high bluff and dense woods, and at the same attack Smith’s forces who were bringing up the rear. This first day was a hard one on the boys, for by ten o’clock at night they made Cloutierville, a distance of forty-five miles. On that day the rear was attacked which caused our forces to reverse their front and form in line of battle, expecting too, to go back to the relief of Smith, but he needed no assistance, sending word to the front that he had ‘whipped them, and could do it again.’ It was well that Banks made so long a march on that day, for on the next we found the enemy prepared to carry out their design of attacking us front and rear. Skirmishing commenced early in the morning and as our columns advanced he fell back towards the bayou, when we soon discovered the position of their batteries on the bluff. There was then an artillery duel by the smaller pieces, and some sharp fighting by the cavalry, when the ‘mule battery,’ twenty pound Parrott guns, opened a heavy fire, which soon dislodged them, forcing the chivalry to flee in a manner not at all suitable to their boasted courage. Before this one cavalry, the 3d Brigade of the 1st Div., and Birges’ brigade of the second, had crossed the bayou and were doing good service, which, with the other work, made the enemy show their heels. The 3d brigade done some daring deeds in this fight, as also did the cavalry. In one instance the 3d charged up a hill almost perpendicular, driving the enemy back by the bayonet without firing a gun. The woods on this bluff was so thick that the cavalry had to dismount and fight on foot. During the whole of the day, our brigade, the 2d was supporting artillery, under fire all the time, and could not give Mr. Reb a return shot.

While we were fighting in front, Smith was engaged some miles in the rear, but he done his part well and drove them back. The rebel commanders thought by attacking us in the rear, and having a large face on the bluffs, they would be able to capture our train and take us all prisoners, but in this they were mistaken, for our march was so rapid that we were on them before they had thrown up the necessary earthworks. Besides they underrated the amount of our artillery, calculating from the number engaged at Pleasant Hill. The rebel prisoners say it ‘seems as though the Yankees manufacture, on short notice, artillery to order, and the men are furnished with wings when they wish to make a certain point.

The damage done to the Confederate cause by the burning of cotton was immense. On the night of the 22d our route was lighted up for miles and millions of dollars worth of this production was destroyed. This loss will be felt more by Davis & Co., than several defeats in this region, for the basis of the loan in England was on the cotton of Western Louisiana.

After the rebels had fled from the bluff the negro troops put down the pontoons, and by ten that night we were six miles beyond the bayou safely encamped. The next morning we moved forward and in two days were in Alexandria. Johnnys followed Smith’s forces, keeping out of range of his guns, except when he had gained the eminence across the bayou, when he punished them (the rebs) severely.

We were at Alexandria seventeen days, during which time the men were kept busy at throwing up earthworks, foraging and three times went out some distance to meet the enemy, but they did not make their appearance in numbers large enough for an engagement. The water in the Red river had fallen so much that it prevented the gunboats from operating with us, and kept our transports from supplying the troops with rations, (and you know soldiers, like other people, will eat) so Banks was compelled to relinquish his designs on Shreveport and fall back to the Mississippi. To do this a large dam had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river. After a great deal labor this was accomplished and by the morning of May 13th the last one was through the shute [sic], when we bade adieu to Alexandria, marching through the town with banners flying and keeping step to the music of ‘Rally around the flag,’ and ‘When this cruel war is over.’

Tragically, sometime after the 47th’s departure from Alexandria, an individual or groups of individuals torched the city. Although many present-day historians indicate that this terrible act was the work of Union troops, Henry Wharton recounted in his same letter of 29 May what had been reported about the fire to leaders of the 47th on 14 May 1864, and also provided a glimpse into two horrific attacks by Confederates on non-combatant ships:

The next morning, at our camping place, the fleet of boats passed us, when we were informed that Alexandria had been destroyed by fire – the act of a dissatisfied citizen and several negroes. Incendiary acts were strictly forbidden in a general order the day before we left the place, and a cavalry guard was left in the rear to see the order enforced. After marching a few miles skirmishing commenced in front between the cavalry and the enemy in riflepits [sic] on the bank of the river, but they were easily driven away. When we came up we discovered their pits and places where there had been batteries planted. At this point the John Warren, and unarmed transport, on which were sick soldiers and women, was fired into and sunk, killing many and those that were not drowned taken prisoners. A tin-clad gunboat was destroyed at the same place, by which we lost a large mail. Many letters and directed envelopes were found on the bank – thrown there after the contents had been read by the unprincipled scoundrels. The inhumanity of Guerrilla bands in this department is beyond belief, and if one did not know the truth of it or saw some of their barbarities, he would write it down as the story of a ‘reliable gentleman’ or as told by an ‘intelligent contraband.’ Not satisfied with his murderous intent on unarmed transports he fires into the Hospital steamer Laurel Hill, with four hundred sick on board. This boat had the usual hospital signal floating fore and aft, yet, notwithstanding all this, and the customs of war, they fired on them, proving by this act that they are more hardened than the Indians on the frontier.

As the Union troops continued their march toward the southeastern part of Louisiana, they passed Fort DeRussy, and then engaged in yet another battle – this time in Avoyelles Parish near Marksville. Fighting in this Battle of Mansura on 16 May 1864, Union infantry skirmished with Dick Taylor’s Confederates, and then orchestrated a flanking attack to force Taylor’s troops into retreat during what was largely a four-hour artillery shoot out:

On Sunday, May 15, we left the river road and took a short route through the woods, saving considerable distance. The windings of Red river are so numerous that it resembles the tape-worm railroad wherewith the politicians frightened the dear people during the administration of Ritner and Stevens. – We stopped several hours in the woods to leave cavalry pass, when we moved forward and by four o’clock emerged into a large open plain where we formed in line of battle, expecting a regular engagement. The enemy, however, retired and we advanced ‘till dark, when the forces halted for the night, with orders to rest on their arms. – ‘Twas here that Banks rode through our regiment, amidst the cheers of the boys, and gave the pleasant news that Grant had defeated Lee. Early next morning we marched through Marksville into a prairie nine miles long and six wide where every preparation was made for a fight. The whole of our force was formed in line, in support of artillery in front, who commenced operations on the enemy driving him gradually from the prairie into the woods. As the enemy retreated before the heavy fire of our artillery, the infantry advanced in line until they reached Mousoula [sic], where they formed in column, taking the whole field in an attempt to flank the enemy, but their running qualities were so good that we were foiled. The maneuvring [sic] of the troops was handsomely done, and the movements was [sic] one of the finest things of the war. The fight of artillery was a steady one of five miles. The enemy merely stood that they might cover the retreat of their infantry and train under cover of their artillery. Our loss was slight. Of the rebels we could not ascertain correctly, but learned from citizens who had secreted themselves during the fight, that they had many killed and wounded, who threw them into wagons, promiscuously, and drove them off so that we could not learn their casualties. The next day we moved to Simmsport on the Achafalaya [sic] river, where a bridge was made by putting the transports side by side, which enabled the troops and train to pass safely over. – The day before we crossed the rebels attacked Smith, thinking it was but the rear guard, in which they, the graybacks, were awfully cut up, and four hundred prisoners fell into our hands. Our loss in killed and wounded was ninety. This fight was the last one of the expedition. The whole of the force is safe on the Mississippi, gunboats, transports and trains. The 16th and 17th have gone to their old commands.

It is amusing to read the statements of correspondents to papers North, concerning our movements and the losses of our army. I have it from the best source that the Federal loss from Franklin to Mansfield, and from their [sic] to this point does not exceed thirty-five hundred in killed, wounded and missing, while that of the rebels is over eight thousand.

On Saturday, 21 May 1864, Brigadier-General William Emory then ordered the men of Company C – the 47th Pennsylvania’s Color-Guard Unit – to move enemy prisoners to a safer Union stronghold. So, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin and his men marched 187 Confederate soldiers south, transferred their management to the appropriate Union authorities, and returned to the regiment.

In his continuation of his 29 May letter home, Henry Wharton delivered the sad news that James Kennedy had died at a Union hospital in New Orleans from the wounds he had sustained in action during the Battle of Pleasant Hill on 9 April:

His friends in the company were pleased to learn that Dr. Dodge of Sunbury, now of the U.S. Steamer Octorora, was with him in his last moments, and ministered to his wants. The Doctor was one of the Surgeons from the Navy who volunteered when our wounded was [sic] sent to New Orleans.

Aftermath

In addition to deaths in combat or at Confederate prison camps, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers lost a significant number of men to disease and the hardships wrought by hard duty in a difficult climate. Three members of the regiment also drowned during the Red River Campaign – one at the start of the expedition, the other two as the regiment’s time in Louisiana wound down.

Many of the regiment’s dead were ultimately laid to rest at the Chalmette National Cemetery in Chalmette, Louisiana – a fair number in unmarked graves. The graves of others still have not yet been located. At least one historian believes the missing status of soldiers on both sides is due to a combination of factors – poor military record keeping, hasty burials of war dead by civilians or retreating troops in shallow, unmarked graves, or the destruction of bodies by feral hogs which devoured soldiers’ remains before they could be properly interred. Quite simply, the scale of the carnage, once again, had overwhelmed military leaders on both sides.

History books record the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield as a Confederate victory, the Battle of Pleasant Hill as a technical victory for the Union, and the Battle of Monett’s Ferry/Cane River Crossing and Battle of Mansura/Marksville as clear victories for the Union.

Through it all, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was represented by just one regiment – the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

 

Sources:

1. 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Records, in Camp Ford Prisoner of War Database. Tyler: The Smith County Historical Society, 1864.

2. A Pennsylvania Soldier’s Experience, in Up the Red River: How the Famous Banks Expedition Came to Grief: Off for Shreveport: The March from Grand Ecore to Pleasant Hill: Sabine Cross-Roads, And the Part the 13th Corps Played in That Battle. Washington, D.C.: 31 January 1884.

3. Banks, Nathaniel P. General Banks’s Report of the Red River Campaign, in Annual Report of the Secretary of War, in Message of the President of the United States, and Accompanying Documents, to the Two Houses of Congress, at the Commencement of the First Session of the Thirty-Ninth Congress. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1866.

4. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.

5. Burial Ledgers, in Records of The National Cemetery Administration, and in Records of the U.S. Departments of Defense and Army (Quartermaster General). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: 1864-1865.

6. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

7. Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1865. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives.

8. Claims for Widow and Minor Pensions, in U.S. Civil War Widows’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives.

9. Dixon, Boyd. Archaeological Investigations at the Third Phase of the Battle of Mansfield, in Bulletin of the Louisiana Archaeological Society, Number 33. New Orleans: 2006. Retrieved online December 2015.

10. Gilbert, Randal B. A New Look at Camp Ford, Tyler Texas: The Largest Confederate Prison Camp West of the Mississippi River, 3rd Edition. Tyler: The Smith County Historical Society, 2010.

11. Interment Control Forms, in Records of the U.S. Office of the Quartermaster General. College Park: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

12. Joiner, Gary D. The Red River Campaign: March 10 – May 22, 1864. Civil War Trust: Washington, D.C. Retrieved online December 2015.

13. Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, in Records of the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: 1864-1865.

14. Reports of Maj. Gen. N. P. Banks (dated 6 April 1865), et. al., in The War of the Rebellion, Vol. XXXIV: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891.

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

16. The Red River Campaign: Detailed Account of the Retrograde Movement How the Gunboats Escaped, in The New York Times. New York: 5 June 1864.

17. Wharton, Henry D. (as “H. D. W.”), in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 1864-1865.