Battle of Cedar Creek .. Oct. 19,1864
Attack: CSA General Jubal Early has been operating against Grant and Philip Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, and as far north as Chambersburg,Pa.which the rebels put to the torch just months before.
The Valley was the bread basket for the Confederacy and Early and Lee understand its importance. The CSA Army is loosing the fight by degrees and see an opportunity when Union General Sheridan orders the VI Corp to Petersburg,Va., reducing his Union forces to a size worth attacking to defeat and drive from The Valley.
Lee and Early seize the opportunity.
Jubal Early has engaged Sheridan for 5 days and is hoping on Lee’s recent advice to “endeavor to crush” Sheridan out of The Shenandoah Valley.
Sheridan has recalled the VI Corp after advice, but leaves on October 16th for a conference in Washington with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
Jubal Early will take the initiative and attack just before dawn on October 19, a successful 3 pronged surprise attack that rolls up the Union flank under General Crook so fast the Union soldiers were half dressed as they ran from their camps.By 10AM Early has pushed the Union army off the battlefield.
The successful CSA attack stalls however when so many of Early’s hungry and exhausted men fall out of ranks to pillage the Union camps for food and supplies.
Early himself seems half-hearted to continue the attack advising CSA Major General John B. Gordon to continue the attack only if seemed to be successful. This order given at approx. 1:00PM has given the Union time to stop their route and reform lines for a counterattack, that the Confederates do not expect.
Gordon will speak of this timely delay after the war. He stated..
“My heart went into my boots. Visions of the fatal halt on the first day at Gettysburg, and of the whole day’s hesitation to permit an assault on Grant’s exposed flank on the 6th of May in The Wilderness rose before me.”
Jubal Early will be pushed out of the Shenandoah Valley for good. Lee will offer Early a smaller command, less than 3,000 men that are later routed by Custer’s cavalry.
Jubal Early, the tough talking commander that threatened Washington for 3 years will meet Lee on March 30,1865 where Lee earnestly thanks Early for his service, and simply tells him to go home.
Defense: The epic poem “Sheridan’s Ride” by Thomas Buchanan Read told the dramatic story of the timely ride by Union General Philip Sheridan who was in Winchester on Oct.18 the eve before the battle.
Returning from his conference wih Secretary of War Stanton and LIncoln, Sheridan felt that Early was not in a position to attack.
The next morning he is advised by pickets that artillery can be heard, and Sheridan feels it is Union artillery making a display and not a threat. He has breakfast about 6am and is advised the sound of battle southeast of Winchester is increasing.
Union command is under Union Major General Horatio G. Wright in Sheridans absence, who is under full attack as his 7 divisions are being driven from the field in disarray after Early’s dawn attack. The Union will have fast losses including 1,300 taken as prisoners as well as lose 24 artillery pieces to the rebels. Time is short and the Union army has crumbled and is in trouble by just 10am.
Sheridan is riding hard since 9am to the battle on his horse Rienzi with a few staff and is reinforced by approx. 300 cavalry along the way, when they meet the beginning of the Union army in full retreat. Cavalry units are spread out in line to stop the pell mell retreat of the Union army.
Sheridan is yelling “Come on back, boys! Give ’em hell, God damn ’em! We’ll make coffee out of Cedar Creek tonight, as the soldiers stop their retreat and start to reform, understanding Sheridan’s words mean a bold counterattack.
It is a fact that the day will be turned against Early’s army due to their pausing their successful advance when Early’s men stop to pillage the Union camps for food and supplies.
This buys the Union army the time to stop their retreat, reform and attack Early, pushing him back in a full route when Union cavalry under Custer and Wharton charge past the Confederate flanks in a planned envelopment.
The rebel army has no choice but to fall back in their own retreat that will bring them back to New Market, and the end of their brave defense of “The Valley”.
The Battle of Cedar Creek is a deafening blow to the south regarding control of the Shenandoah and the food supplies it afforded the Confederate army. Lee will never again be able to bring his army north through the valley to attack the north again.
The defense by the Union forces during the initial route was as in most battles held by a few brave few while others just ran. One of the few brave Union officers that day that in fact bought time as well as established a rallying point for the confused Federals was a young Union Captain Henry A. DuPont, just 26 years old as acting chief of Union General Crook’s artillery.
For his actions, DuPont will be one of 12 Union soldiers at The Battle of Cedar Creek to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. He will later enter business and politics, serving in Senate seats for Delaware from 1906-1917. Men liked DuPont saved the battle for the Union.
Battle outcome: Dramatic Union victory.
Soldiers: Union-31,600 approx./ CSA-21,102
Casualties: Union – 5,764 (569 killed) / CSA – 2,910 (320 killed)
The Battle of Cedar Creek (VA): Victory from the Jaws of Defeat (Civil War Sesquicentennial)
by Jonathan A. Noyolas
“Sheridans’s Ride“ ...Read how Sheridan almost loses the day..until he rides his famous dash from Winchester..to Cedar Creek on his fast black steed “Rienzi”.