Part 3 out of 3
this infantry and drove in its skirmish-line, and though not able to
dislodge Gordon, Merritt held the ground gained till night-fall, when
the Confederate infantry moved off under cover of darkness to Hupp's
Hill, between Strasburg and Cedar Creek.
The next morning Crook marched from Stony Point to Cedar Creek, Emory
followed with Dwight, and the cavalry moved to the same point by way
of Newtown and the Valley pike, the Sixth Corps following the
cavalry. That night Crook was in position at Cedar Creek, on the
left of the Valley pike, Emory on the right of the pike, the Sixth
Corps on the right of Emory, and the cavalry on the flanks. In the
afternoon a heavy skirmish-line had been thrown forward to the
heights on the south side of Cedar Creek, and a brisk affair with the
enemy's pickets took place, the Confederates occupying with their
main force the heights north of Strasburg. On the morning of the
13th my cavalry went out to reconnoitre toward Strasburg, on the
middle road, about two and a half miles west of the Valley pike, and
discovered that Early's infantry was at Fisher's Hill, where he had
thrown up behind Tumbling Run earthworks extending clear across the
narrow valley between the Massanutten and North mountains. On the
left of these works he had Vaughan's, McCausland's, and Johnson's
brigades of cavalry under General Lomax, who at this time relieved
General Ramseur from the command of the Confederate mounted forces.
Within the past day or two I had received information that a column
of the enemy was moving up from Culpeper Court House and approaching
Front Royal through Chester Gap, and although the intelligence was
unconfirmed, it caused me much solicitude; for there was strong
probability that such a movement would be made, and any considerable
force advancing through Front Royal toward Winchester could fall upon
my rear and destroy my communication with Harper's Ferry, or, moving
along the base of Massanutten Mountain, could attack my flank in
conjunction with the force at Fisher's Hill without a possibility of
my preventing it.
Neither Wilson's cavalry nor Grower's infantry had yet joined me, and
the necessities, already explained, which obliged me to hold with
string garrisons Winchester and other points heretofore mentioned.
had so depleted my line of battle strength that I knew the enemy
would outnumber me when Anderson's corps should arrive in the valley.
I deemed it advisable, therefore, to act with extreme caution, so,
with the exception of a cavalry reconnoissance on the 13th, I
remained on the defensive, quietly awaiting developments. In the
evening of that day the enemy's skirmishers withdrew to Tumbling Run,
his main force remaining inactive behind the intrenchments at
Fisher's Hill waiting for the arrival of Anderson.
The rumors in regard to the force advancing from Culpeper kept
increasing every hour, so on the morning of the 14th I concluded to
send a brigade of cavalry to Front Royal to ascertain definitely what
was up. At the same time I crossed the Sixth Corps to the south side
of Cedar Creek, and occupied the heights near Strasburg. That day I
received from the hands of Colonel Chipman, of the Adjutant-General's
Department, the following despatch, to deliver which he had ridden in
great haste from Washington through Snicker's Gap, escorted by a
regiment of cavalry:
"CITY POINT, August 12, 1864--9 A. M.
"Inform General Sheridan that it is now certain two (2) divisions of
infantry have gone to Early, and some cavalry and twenty (20) pieces
of artillery. This movement commenced last Saturday night. He must
be cautious, and act now on the defensive until movements here force
them to detach to send this way. Early's force, with this increase,
cannot exceed forty thousand men, but this is too much for General
Sheridan to attack. Send General Sheridan the remaining brigade of
the Nineteenth Corps.
"I have ordered to Washington all the one-hundred-day men. Their
time will soon be out, but for the present they will do to serve in
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
The despatch explained the movement from Culpeper, and on the morning
of the 15th Merritt's two remaining brigades were sent to Front Royal
to oppose Anderson, and the Sixth Corps withdrawn to the north side
of Cedar Creek, where it would be in a position enabling me either to
confront Anderson or to act defensively, as desired by General Grant.
To meet the requirements of his instructions I examined the map of
the valley for a defensive line--a position where a smaller number of
troops could hold a larger number--for this information led me to
suppose that Early's force would greatly exceed mine when Anderson's
two divisions of infantry and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry had joined him.
I could see but one such position, and that was at Halltown, in front
of Harper's Ferry. Subsequent experience convinced me that there was
no other really defensive line in the Shenandoah Valley, for at
almost any other point the open country and its peculiar topography
invites rather than forbids flanking operations.
This retrograde movement would also enable me to strengthen my
command by Grower's division of the Nineteenth Corps and Wilson's
cavalry, both of which divisions were marching from Washington by way
of Snicker's Gap.
After fully considering the matter, I determined to move back to
Halltown, carrying out, as I retired, my instructions to destroy all
the forage and subsistence the country afforded. So Emory was
ordered to retire to Winchester on the night of the 15th, and Wright
and Crook to follow through Winchester to Clifton the next night.
For the cavalry, in this move to the rear, I gave the following
"....In pushing up the Shenandoah Valley, as 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 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,
recurrences of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to
stop them at all hazards...." [Grant's letter of instructions.]
"HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION,
"Cedar Creek, Va., August 16, 1864.
"GENERAL: In compliance with instructions of the Lieutenant-General
commanding, you will make the necessary arrangements and give the
necessary orders for the destruction of the wheat and hay south of a
line from Millwood to Winchester and Petticoat Gap. You will seize
all mules, horses, and cattle that may be useful to our army. Loyal
citizens can bring in their claims against the Government for this
necessary destruction. No houses will be burned, and officers in
charge of this delicate but necessary duty must inform the people
that the object is to make this valley untenable for the raiding
parties of the rebel army.
"P. H. SHERIDAN,
"BRIGADIER-GENERAL A. T. A. TORBERT,
"Chief of Cavalry, Middle Military Division."
During his visit to General Hunter at the Monocacy, General Grant had
not only decided to retain in the Shenandoah Valley a large force
sufficient to defeat Early's army or drive it back to Lee, but he had
furthermore determined to make that sections by the destruction of
its supplies, untenable for continued occupancy by the Confederates.
This would cut off one of Lee's main-stays in the way of subsistence,
and at the same time diminish the number of recruits and conscripts
he received; the valley district while under his control not only
supplying Lee with an abundance of food, but also furnishing him many
men for his regular and irregular forces. Grant's instructions to
destroy the valley began with the letter of August 5 to Hunter, which
was turned over to me, and this was followed at intervals by more
specific directions, all showing the earnestness of his purpose.
"CITY POINT, Va., Aug. 16--3:30 P. M., 1864.
"MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Winchester, Va.:
"If you can possibly spare a division of cavalry, send them through
Loudoun County to destroy and carry off the crops, animals, negroes,
and all men under fifty years of age capable of bearing arms. In
this way you will get many of Mosby's men. All male citizens under
fifty can fairly be held as prisoners of war, not as citizen
prisoners. If not already soldiers, they will be made so the moment
the rebel army gets hold of them.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
"HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES,
"CITY POINT, Aug. 21, 1864.
"MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Charlestown, Va.:
"In stripping Loudoun County of supplies, etc., impress from all
loyal persons so that they may receive pay for what is taken from
them. I am informed by the Assistant Secretary of War that Loudoun
County has a large population of Quakers, who are all favorably
disposed to the Union. These people may be exempted from arrest.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
"HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES
"CITY POINT, Va., Aug. 26,2:30 P. M. 1864.
"MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Halltown, Va.:
"Telegraphed you that I had good reason for believing that Fitz Lee
had been ordered back here. I now think it likely that all troops
will be ordered back from the valley except what they believe to be
the minimum number to detain you. My reason for supposing this is
based upon the fact that yielding up the Weldon road seems to be a
blow to the enemy he cannot stand. I think I do not overstate the
loss of the enemy in the last two weeks at 10,000 killed and wounded.
We have lost heavily, mostly in captured when the enemy gained
temporary advantages. Watch closely, and if you find this theory
correct, push with all vigor. Give the enemy no rest, and if it is
possible to follow to the Virginia Central road, follow that far. Do
all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock of
all descriptions and negroes, so as to prevent further planting. If
the war is to last another year we want the Shenandoah Valley to
remain a barren waste.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
"HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES,
"CITY POINT, Va., Sept. 4,--10 A. M.--1864.
"MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Charlestown, Va.:
"In cleaning out the arms-bearing community of Loudoun County and the
subsistence for armies, exercise your own judgment as to who should
be exempt from arrest, and as to who should receive pay for their
stock, grain, etc. It is our interest that that county should not be
capable of subsisting a hostile army, and at the same time we want to
inflict as little hardship upon Union men as possible.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
"CITY POINT, Va., Nov. 9, 1864.
"MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Cedar Creek, Va.:
"Do you not think it advisable to notify all citizens living east of
the Blue Ridge to move out north of the Potomac all their stock,
grain, and provisions of every description? There is no doubt about
the necessity of clearing out that country so that it will not
support Mosby's gang. And the question is whether it is not better
that the people should save what they can. So long as the war lasts
they must be prevented from raising another crop, both there and as
high up the valley as we can control.
"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."
He had rightly concluded that it was time to bring the war home to a
people engaged in raising crops from a prolific soil to feed the
country's enemies, and devoting to the Confederacy its best youth. I
endorsed the programme in all its parts, for the stores of meat and
grain that the valley provided, and the men it furnished for Lee's
depleted regiments, were the strongest auxiliaries he possessed in
the whole insurgent section. In war a territory like this is a
factor of great importance, and whichever adversary controls it
permanently reaps all the advantages of its prosperity. Hence, as I
have said, I endorsed Grant's programme, for I do not hold war to
mean simply that lines of men shall engage each other in battle, and
material interests be ignored. This is but a duel, in which one
combatant seeks the other's life; war means much more, and is far
worse than this. Those who rest at home in peace and plenty see but
little of the horrors attending such a duel, and even grow
indifferent to them as the struggle goes on, contenting themselves
with encouraging all who are able-bodied to enlist in the cause, to
fill up the shattered ranks as death thins them. It is another
matter, however, when deprivation and suffering are brought to their
own doors. Then the case appears much graver, for the loss of
property weighs heavy with the most of mankind; heavier often, than
the sacrifices made on the field of battle. Death is popularly
considered the maximum of punishment in war, but it is not; reduction
to poverty brings prayers for peace more surely and more quickly than
does the destruction of human life, as the selfishness of man has
demonstrated in more than one great conflict.
In the afternoon of the 16th I started back to Winchester, whence I
could better supervise our regressive march. As I was passing
through Newtown, I heard cannonading from the direction of Front
Royal, and on reaching Winchester, Merritt's couriers brought me word
that he had been attacked at the crossing of the Shenandoah by
Kershaw's division of Anderson's corps and two brigades of Fitzhugh
Lee's cavalry, but that the attack had been handsomely repulsed, with
a capture of two battle-flags and three hundred prisoners. This was
an absolute confirmation of the despatch from Grant; and I was now
more than satisfied with the wisdom of my withdrawal.
At daylight of the 17th Emory moved from Winchester to Berryville,
and the same morning Crook and Wright reached Winchester, having
started from Cedar Creek the day before. From Winchester, Crook and
Wright resumed their march toward Clifton, Wright, who had the rear
guard, getting that day as far as the Berryville crossing of the
Opequon, where he was ordered to remain, while Crook went ahead till
he reached the vicinity of Berryville. On the afternoon of the 17th
Lowell with his two regiments of troopers came into Winchester, where
he was joined by Wilson's mounted division, which had come by a rapid
march from Snicker's ferry. In the mean time Merritt, after his
handsome engagement with Kershaw near Front Royal, had been ordered
back to the neighborhood of White Post, so that my cavalry outposts
now extended from this last point around to the west of Winchester.
During all these operations the enemy had a signal-station on Three
Top Mountain, almost overhanging Strasburg, from which every movement
made by our troops could be plainly seen; therefore, early on the
morning of the 17th he became aware of the fact that we were retiring
down the valley, and at once made after us, and about sundown drove
Torbert out of Winchester, he having been left there-with Wilson and
Lowell, and the Jersey brigade of the Sixth Corps, to develop the
character of the enemy's pursuit. After a severe skirmish Wilson and
Lowell fell back to Summit Point, and the Jersey brigade joined its
corps at the crossing of the Opequon. This affair demonstrated that
Early's whole army had followed us from Fisher's Hill, in concert
with Anderson and Fitzhugh Lee from Front Royal, and the two columns
joined near Winchester the morning of the 18th.
That day I moved the Sixth Corps by way of Clifton to Flowing Spring,
two and a half miles west of Charlestown, on the Smithfield pike; and
Emory, with Dwight's and Grower's divisions (Grower's having joined
that morning from Washington), to a position about the same distance
south of Charlestown, on the Berryville pike. Following these
movements, Merritt fell back to Berryville, covering the Berryville
pike crossing of the Opequon, and Wilson was stationed at Summit
Point, whence he held a line along the Opequon as far north as the
bridge at Smithfield. Crook continued to hold on near Clifton until
the next day, and was then moved into place on the left of Emory.
This line was practically maintained till the 21st, when the enemy,
throwing a heavy force across the Opequon by the bridge at
Smithfield, drove in my cavalry pickets to Summit Point, and followed
up with a rapid advance against the position of the Sixth Corps near
Flowing Spring. A sharp and obstinate skirmish with a heavy
picket-line of the Sixth Corps grew out of this manoeuvre, and
resulted very much in our favor, but the quick withdrawal of the
Confederates left no opportunity for a general engagement. It seems
that General Early thought I had taken position near Summit Point, and
that by moving rapidly around through Smithfield he could fall upon my
rear in concert with an attack in front by Anderson, but the warm
reception given him disclosed his error, for he soon discovered that
my line lay in front of Charlestown instead of where he supposed.
In the manoeuvre Merritt had been attacked in front of Berryville and
Wilson at Summit Point, the former by cavalry and the latter by
Anderson's infantry. The exposed positions of Merritt and Wilson
necessitated their withdrawal if I was to continue to act on the
defensive; so, after the army had moved back to Halltown the
preceding night, without loss or inconvenience, I called them in and
posted them on the right of the infantry.
My retrograde move from Strasburg to Halltown caused considerable
alarm in the North, as the public was ignorant of the reasons for it;
and in the excited state of mind then prevailing, it was generally
expected that the reinforced Confederate army would again cross the
Potomac, ravage Maryland and Pennsylvania, and possibly capture
Washington. Mutterings of dissatisfaction reached me from many
sources, and loud calls were made for my removal, but I felt
confident that my course would be justified when the true situation
was understood, for I knew that I was complying with my instructions.
Therefore I paid small heed to the adverse criticisms pouring down
from the North almost every day, being fully convinced that the best
course was to bide my time, and wait till I could get the enemy into
a position from which he could not escape without such serious
misfortune as to have some bearing on the general result of the war.
Indeed, at this time I was hoping that my adversary would renew the
boldness he had exhibited the early part of the month, and strike for
the north side of the Potomac, and wrote to General Grant on the 20th
of August that I had purposely left everything in that direction open
to the enemy.
On the 22d the Confederates moved to Charlestown and pushed well up
to my position at Halltown. Here for the next three days they
skirmished with my videttes and infantry pickets, Emory and Cook
receiving the main attention; but finding that they could make no
impression, and judging it to be an auspicious time to intensify the
scare in the North, on the 25th of August Early despatched Fitzhugh
Lee's cavalry to Williamsport, and moved all the rest of his army but
Anderson's infantry and McCausland's cavalry to Kerneysville. This
same day there was sharp picket firing along the whole front of my
infantry line, arising, as afterward ascertained, from a heavy
demonstration by Anderson. During this firing I sent Torbert, with
Merritt's and Wilson's divisions, to Kerrteysville, whence he was to
proceed toward Leetown and learn what had become of Fitz. Lee.
About a mile from Leetown Torbert met a small force of Confederate
cavalry, and soon after encountering it, stumbled on Breckenridge's
corps of infantry on the march, apparently heading for Shepherdstown.
The surprise was mutual, for Torbert expected to meet only the
enemy's cavalry, while the Confederate infantry column was
anticipating an unobstructed march to the Potomac. Torbert attacked
with such vigor as at first to double up the head of Breckenridge's
corps and throw it into confusion, but when the Confederates realized
that they were confronted only by cavalry, Early brought up the whole
of the four infantry divisions engaged in his manoeuvre, and in a
sharp attack pushed Torbert rapidly back.
All the advantages which Torbert had gained by surprising the enemy
were nullified by this counter-attack, and he was obliged to withdraw
Wilson's division toward my right, to the neighborhood of Duffield's
Station, Merritt drawing back to the same point by way of the
Shepherdstown ford. Custer's brigade becoming isolated after the
fight while assisting the rear guard, was also obliged to retire,
which it did to Shepherdstown and there halted, picketing the river
to Antietam ford.
When Torbert reported to me the nature of his encounter, and that a
part of Early's infantry was marching to the north, while Fitzhugh
Lee's cavalry had gone toward Martinsburg, I thought that the
Confederate general meditated crossing his cavalry into Maryland, so
I sent Wilson by way of Harper's Ferry to watch his movements from
Boonesboro', and at the same time directed Averell, who had reported
from West Virginia some days before, to take post at Williamsport and
hold the crossing there until he was driven away. I also thought it
possible that Early might cross the Potomac with his whole army, but
the doubts of a movement like this outweighed the probabilities
favoring it. Nevertheless, to meet such a contingency I arranged to
throw my army on his rear should the occasion arise, and deeming my
position at Halltown the most advantageous in which to await
developments, my infantry was retained there.
If General Early had ever intended to cross the Potomac, Torbert's
discovery of his manoeuvre put an end to his scheme of invasion, for
he well knew that and success he might derive from such a course
would depend on his moving with celerity, and keeping me in ignorance
of his march till it should be well under way; so he settled all the
present uncertainties by retiring with all his troops about
Kerneysville to his old position at Bunker Hill behind the Opequon,
and on the night of the 26th silently withdrew Anderson and
McCausland from my front at Halltown to Stephenson's depot.
By the 27th all of Early's infantry was in position at Brucetown and
Bunker Hill, his cavalry holding the outposts of Leetown and
Smithfield, and on that day Merritt's division attacked the enemy's
horse at Leetown, and pressed it back through Smithfield to the west
side of the Opequon. This reconnoissance determined definitely that
Early had abandoned the projected movement into Maryland, if he ever
seriously contemplated it; and I marched my infantry out from
Halltown to the front of Charlestown, with the intention of occupying
a line between Clifton and Berryville the moment matters should so
shape themselves that I could do so with advantage. The night of the
28th Wilson joined me near Charlestown from his points of observation
in Maryland, and the next day Averell crossed the Potomac at
Williamsport and advanced to Martinsburg.
Merritt's possession of Smithfield bridge made Early somewhat uneasy,
since it afforded opportunity for interposing a column between his
right and left flanks, so he concluded to retake the crossing, and,
to this end, on the 29th advanced two divisions of infantry. A
severe fight followed, and Merritt was forced to retire, being driven
through the village toward Charlestown with considerable loss. As
Merritt was nearing my infantry line, I ordered. Ricketts's division
of the Sixth Corps to his relief, and this in a few minutes turned
the tide, the Smithfield crossing of the Opequon being regained, and
afterward held by Lowell's brigade, supported by Ricketts. The next
morning I moved Torbert, with Wilson and Merritt, to Berryville, and
succeeding their occupation of that point there occurred along my
whole line a lull, which lasted until the 3d of September, being
undisturbed except by a combat near Bunker Hill between Averell's
cavalry and a part of McCausland's, supported by Rodes's division of
infantry, in which affair the Confederates were defeated with the
loss of about fifty prisoners and considerable property in the shape
of wagons and beef-cattle.
Meanwhile Torbert's movement to Berryville had alarmed Early, and as
a counter move on the 2d of September he marched with the bulk of his
army to Summit Point, but while reconnoitring in that region on the
3d he learned of the havoc that Averell was creating in his rear, and
this compelled him to recross to the west side of the Opequon and
mass his troops in the vicinity of Stephenson's depot, whence he
could extend down to Bunker Hill, continue to threaten the Baltimore
and Ohio railroad, and at the same time cover Winchester.
The same day I was moving my infantry to take up the Clifton-Berryville
line, and that afternoon Wright went into position at Clifton, Crook
occupied Berryville, and Emory's corps came in between them, forming
almost a continuous line. Torbert had moved to White Post meanwhile,
with directions to reconnoitre as far south as the Front Royal Pike.
My infantry had just got fairly into this position about an hour
before sunset, when along Crook's front a combat took place that at
the time caused me to believe it was Early's purpose to throw a
column between Crook and Torbert, with the intention of isolating the
latter; but the fight really arose from the attempt of General
Anderson to return to Petersburg with Kershaw's division in response
to loud calls from General Lee. Anderson started south on the 3d of
September, and possibly this explains Early's reconnoissance that day
to Summit Point as a covering movement, but his rapid withdrawal left
him in ignorance of my advance, and Anderson marched on heedlessly
toward Berryville, expecting to cross the Blue Ridge through Ashby's
Gap. At Berryville however, he blundered into Crook's lines about
sunset, and a bitter little fight ensued, in which the Confederates
got so much the worst of it that they withdrew toward Winchester.
When General Early received word of this encounter he hurried to
Anderson's assistance with three divisions, but soon perceiving what
was hitherto unknown to him, that my whole army was on a new line, he
decided, after some slight skirmishing, that Anderson must remain at
Winchester until a favorable opportunity offered for him to rejoin
Lee by another route.
Succeeding the discomfiture of Anderson, some minor operations took
place on the part of, Averell on the right and McIntosh's brigade of
Wilson's division on the left, but from that time until the 19th of
September no engagement of much importance occurred. The line from
Clifton to Berryville was occupied by the Sixth Corps and Grower's
and Dwight's divisions of the Nineteenth, Crook being transferred to
Summit Point, whence I could use him to protect my right flank and my
communication with Harper's Ferry, while the cavalry threatened the
enemy's right flank and line of retreat up the valley.
The difference of strength between the two armies at this date was
considerably in my favor, but the conditions attending my situation
in a hostile region necessitated so much detached service to protect
trains, and to secure Maryland and Pennsylvania from raids, that my
excess in numbers was almost canceled by these incidental demands
that could not be avoided, and although I knew that I was strong,
yet, in consequence of the injunctions of General Grant, I deemed it
necessary to be very cautious; and the fact that the Presidential
election was impending made me doubly so, the authorities at
Washington having impressed upon me that the defeat of my army might
be followed by the overthrow of the party in power, which event, it
was believed, would at least retard the progress of the war, if,
indeed, it did not lead to the complete abandonment of all coercive
measures. Under circumstances such as these I could not afford to
risk a disaster, to say nothing of the intense disinclination every
soldier has for such results; so, notwithstanding my superior
strength, I determined to take all the time necessary to equip myself
with the fullest information, and then seize an opportunity under
such conditions that I could not well fail of success.