Battle of Cedar Creek (19 October 1864)
The Battle of Cedar Creek was the last major battle of General Philip Sheridan's 1864 Valley Campaign. It ranksas one of the two largest battles fought in the confines of the The Shenandoah Valley. In terms of casualties it ranks only second to the Third Battle of Winchester fought on September 19, 1864. Casualties numbered 2,910 (320k/1,540w/1,050m) for the Confederates and 5,665 (644k/3,430w/1,591m) for the Federals.
The principal commanders during this battle were Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early for the Confederacy and Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan and Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright
General Early's forces consisted of five infantry divisions under command of Generals(Gordon, Wharton, Ramseur, Pegram, Kershaw), and two cavalry divisions under Generals Rosser and Lomax, totally about 15,265men.
The Federal forces included three infantry corps under Generals Wright, Emory, Crook), as well as two cavalry divisions (Merritt and Custer), numbering 31,944.
For a fairly complete list of the units and commanders in action at Cedar Creek, go to Order of Battle for Cedar Creek.
Significance: The battle of Cedar Creek dealt the crushing blow to the Confederacy in the Shenandoah Valley and, together with William T. Sherman's successes in the Atlanta Campaign, spurred the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln. The battle can be ranked in size and intensity with the battle of Opequon (Third Winchester) and both are included among the major battles of the Civil War. The Confederate surprise attack at Cedar Creek is considered one of the most daring and successful maneuvers of its kind and is studied by military theorists today. It was a feat ``unduplicated'' during the Civil War. General Sheridan's arrival on the field of battle to rally his broken troops passed into American verse and folklore as ``Sheridan's Ride,'' and offers a dramatic example of the effect of charismatic leadership. Rarely have the scales of victory and disaster swung to such extremes during battle: the morning's brilliant Confederate success was transformed into a Union victory by day's end.
Description of the Battle
US Dispositions Behind Cedar Creek:
The Union Army of the Shenandoah, about 32,000 men under Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, encamped on the heights above Cedar Creek from near Middle Marsh Brook to south of the Valley Turnpike. On the night of October 18-19, General Sheridan was at Winchester, returning from a conference in Washington, D.C. In his absence, Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright, commander of the VI Corps, was left in command of the army, his headquarters at Belle Grove, south of Middletown. The army comprised three infantry corps (Wright's VI, Maj. Gen. William Emory's XIX, and Brig. Gen. George Crook's Army of West Virginia), and a cavalry corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Alfred Torbert. The VI Corps was on the far right of the Union infantry on the hills north of Meadow Brook. Torbert's cavalry (Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt's Division), encamped near Nieswander's Fort. Brig. Gen. George A. Custer's division covered the Back Road and the Cedar Creek crossings in the vicinity of Hite's Chapel. The XIX Corps occupied the bluffs above Cedar Creek, extending from Meadow Brook to the Valley Pike bridge. Crook's corps and an attached ``provisional'' division under Brig. Gen. John Howard Kitching were bivouacked south and east of the Valley Pike. The vast trains of the army were parked on level ground west of Belle Grove near the pike. Two of the three corps erected entrenchments. The Union left flank was considered protected by the North Fork Shenandoah River and the rough ground in front of the Massanutten and was lightly picketed by cavalry. Other elements of US cavalry covered Buckton Ford and the roads from Front Royal.
CS Approach and Preparations for Battle:
On 17 October 1864, Maj. Gen. John Gordon and topographical engineer Jedediah Hotchkiss climbed to Signal Knob on the Massanutten to survey the Union position behind Cedar Creek. While there, they formulated a daring plan to turn the Union left flank, which Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early approved. After dark on 18 October, the plan was set in motion. Gordon's, Ramseur's, and Pegram's divisions, (Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia) under overall command of Gordon, marched from their entrenchments and crossed the North Fork east of Fisher's Hill. They followed a narrow path along the face of the Massanutten, often in single file, and along the Manassas Gap railroad to a spot opposite McInturff's and Colonel Bowman's fords.
Gordon's Route from Fisher's Hill to the fords
After surprising and capturing the pickets, the divisions recrossed the North Fork, passing north on a farm lane, past Col. Bowman's House ``Long Meadow,'' to the vicinity of the Cooley House, where they faced to the left to form a line of battle beyond the left flank of Crook's corps. Gordon's column was in position by 0400 hours.
Map of Gordon's movements over the fords
In the meantime, Kershaw's and Wharton's divisions accompanied by the army's artillery, advanced down the pike, by Spangler's Mill and through Strasburg. Kershaw's column, accompanied by Gen. Early, diverged to the right on the road to Bowman's Mill Ford, where it prepared for the dawn attack. Wharton continued on the pike past the George Hupp House to Hupp's Hill, where he deployed.
The CS artillery massed on the Valley Pike south of Strasburg to await developments at the front. In conjunction with these maneuvers, Brig. Gen. Thomas Rosser's cavalry division advanced on the Back Road to Cupp's Ford. Brig. Gen. Lunsford Lomax's cavalry division was ordered to advance on the Front Royal-Winchester Road and then cross over to the Valley Pike in the vicinity of Newtown (Stephens City). Lomax did not advance as directed.
Surprise Attack on US Left Flank:
Before dawn a heavy fog descended on the area. At precisely 0500, Kershaw's division fired a thunderous volley and rushed the entrenchments of Thoburn's division (Crook), overrunning them. Gordon's force began to advance and a few minutes later smashed into Brig. Gen. Rutherford B. Hayes' division (Crook) and Kitching's provisional division. Hayes' veterans attempted a stand which soon evaporated as Confederates closed in on both flanks of the disorganized units. Union soldiers, surprised in their camps, streamed rearward. At the sound of firing, Wharton's division advanced to the creek and deployed, awaiting further developments. The CS artillery raced to the front and opened fire on the XIX Corps from the heights overlooking Cedar Creek. A detachment of CS cavalry with Gordon attempted to reach Belle Grove, where they expected to capture Sheridan.
Map of Kersahw's movements across Bowman Ford
By 0530, mobs of stragglers from Crook's and Kitching's commands streamed west across the Valley Pike, confirming the scope of the disaster. Emory withdrew the units that covered the turnpike bridge and attempted to form a defensive line parallel with the pike. As he did so, Wharton's division crossed Cedar Creek at Stickley's Mill and rushed the heights, capturing 7 guns. Only desperate action enabled the rest of the US artillery to escape.
Colonel Thomas Wilde's brigade (Crook's corps) went into line just east of the pike to contest the CS attack. General Wright directed their advance personally and was painfully wounded in the chin. A second US brigade under Col. Stephen Thomas (XIX Corps) advanced to high ground about 200 yards east of the pike and fired volley after volley into the fog, suffering heavy casualties. The stand of these brigades bought time for the Union trains parked near Belle Grove to escape to the north. The advanced US units were steadily driven back to Belle Grove. Crook's corps and Kitching's command were shattered and out of the fighting for the rest of the day.
Map of the overall battlefield
VI Corps and XIX Corps Resistance:
The VI Corps deployed to meet the approaching assault. While elements of the XIX Corps reorganized on Red Hill, Ricketts's Division (VI Corps) formed a line of battle anchored on Cedar Creek and fought an isolated battle against Kershaw's division which furiously attacked their line. Wheaton's Division (VI Corps) advanced to high ground in the fields north of Belle Grove Mansion, where they were assaulted by Gordon. The fog burned off and for the first time the opposing forces could see one another clearly. CS batteries were brought to bear against the US line. Kershaw assaulted repeatedly but was repulsed. Gradually, all US forces in the area withdrew and retreated northeast along Middle Marsh Brook.
Getty's Defense of Cemetery Hill:
While fighting raged to his right, Maj. Gen. George Getty maneuvered his division (VI Corps) toward Middletown, seeking to extend the Union line to cover the Valley Pike. When US forces on the right began to withdraw, however, Getty established a defensive salient on Cemetery Hill, supported by artillery. General Early concentrated against Getty's position, launching disjointed attacks with elements of four different divisions which were successively repulsed with heavy casualties in the area near the Sperry House and the Ridings House. The CS artillery massed along the Valley Pike and concentrated a deadly fire on Cemetery Hill. After about an hour, Getty withdrew to join the rest of the army which was rallying, first along the Old Forge Road and then in a salient across the Valley Pike. Getty's stand broke the momentum of the CS assaults and enabled other US units to withdraw north of the cemetery to regroup.
In the meantime, Custer's division, after throwing back Rosser's feeble attempt to gain the US rear, joined Merritt on the far left of the Union line, east of the pike and north of Middletown. This concentration of cavalry threatened Early's right flank and forced him to redeploy heavy force in this area.
Sheridan Arrives/ US Army Regroups:
About 1030, Sheridan arrived on the field after riding from Winchester. He established his command post near the Valley Pike (vicinity of the Dinges Farm) and began to reorganize his forces. The VI Corps was deployed on the left, adjacent to the Valley Pike, with the XIX Corps on the right. Crook's disorganized command was placed in reserve along the pike. In a dramatic moment, Sheridan rode along the front of the reestablished battle line. The men responded with a tremendous cheer. As skirmishing continued, Sheridan placed a cavalry division on each of his flanks, Merritt on the left and Custer on the right. About 1500, he prepared to launch a counterattack.
CS Line Advances to Miller's Mill Road:
After the US withdrawal from Cemetery Hill, Early advanced to occupy the hill and called a halt to regroup. He placed his divisions in a line about two and a half miles long, just north of Middletown, and pushed Ramseur and Kershaw forward to Miller's Mill Road. The CS divisions from left to right were: Gordon, Kershaw, Ramseur, Pegram, Wharton. As the afternoon wore on, skirmishing continued and several probes were made of the newly reestablished US line, but no serious fighting developed. Early appeared convinced that he had won the battle and that US forces would retreat after dark.
Cavalry Maneuvers/Collapse of CS Left:
About 1500 hours, Merritt advanced on the Union left, putting pressure on the CS right flank north of Middletown. Heavy US skirmish lines forced CS skirmishers back on their main line along the Miller's Mill Road and west. Custer maneuvered into position on the US right flank, confronting Gordon's men near Middle Marsh Brook. About 1530 Custer's division of cavalry and elements of the XIX Corps advanced against the CS left flank (Gordon and Kershaw), which was hanging in the air. Custer continued extending west beyond Middle Marsh Brook, thinning the CS line. He then launched a powerful attack that overran and scattered Gordon's division. The Confederate line now began to unravel from west to east, putting additional pressure on Ramseur's command at the center.
At 1600 Sheridan ordered a general advance which led to fierce fighting along the front. Ramseur's division at the Confederate center near Miller's Mill bore the brunt of the attacks and repulsed several, in spite of the withdrawal of Kershaw and Gordon on his left. Fighting raged around the D. J. Miller House and mill until Ramseur fell mortally wounded. Then CS resistance in this area began to collapse. CS forces along the pike retreated hastily, although in fairly good order, up the Valley Pike toward the Union camps they had captured in the morning. Delaying actions fought by artillery and infantry units kept pursuing Union forces at bay. Merritt pressed forward with his division, pursuing closely as Confederates retreated across Cedar Creek.
CS Retreat to Fisher's Hill:
Custer's division advancedsouth along Middle Marsh Brook, gaining the rear of the Confederate army. As the CS rout continued, Custer crossed Cedar Creek at Hottel's Mill Ford and joined Merritt's division on Hupp's Hill at dusk about 1830. The cavalry advanced, pursuing the Confederates back along the Valley Pike.
The bridge near Spangler's Mill collapsed causing Early to lose most of his artillery and many wagons. The cavalry pursuit continued after dark, ending at Fisher's Hill. The US cavalry captured 43 cannons, more than 200 wagons, and many prisoners. The Confederates lost at least ten battle flags, which symbolized the progressive disintegration of the army.
General Location of the Battlefieeld: Along US 11, from north of Middletown in the north to Cedar Creek in the south; Belle Grove is a focal point. Yhr Confederate march began from Fisher's Hill. The capture of the Confederate trains took place just south of Strasburg along present day US highway 11.Driving Tour of the Cedar Creek
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