Cedar Creek Report, Commander, Valley District (OR, 43, 560-4)
NEW MARKET, October 20, 1864.
The Sixth and Nineteenth Corps have not left the Valley. I fought them both yesterday. I attacked Sheridan's camp on Cedar Creek before day yesterday morning, and surprised and routed the Eighth and Nineteenth Corps, and then drove the Sixth Corps beyond Middle town, capturing 18 pieces of artillery and 1,300 prisoners, but the enemy subsequently made a stand on the pike, and, in turn, attacked my line, and my left gave way, and the rest of the troops took a panic and could not be rallied, retreating in confusion. But for their bad conduct I should have defeated Sheridan's whole force. On the retreat back to Fisher's Hill the enemy captured about thirty pieces of artillery and some wagons and ambulances. The prisoners were brought off My loss in men was not heavy. General Ramseur was seriously wounded while acting with gallantry, and was captured by the enemy.
J. A. EARLY,
Col. W. H. TAYLOR,
NEW MARKET, October 21,1864.
My net loss in artillery on the 19th was twenty-three pieces. My loss in killed and wounded is less [than] 1,000. In the early part of the day it was not more than 100. I cannot say how many were captured, but I think very few. Many of the men scattered, and are still coming in. The enemy's infantry is very badly demoralized. My men ran without sufficient cause, and the capture of artillery, &c., was made by the enemy's cavalry. The enemy is not pursuing; his loss was very severe I have sent off over 1,300 prisoners.
J. A. EARLY,
General R. E. LEE.
NEW MARKET, October 21,1861.
GENERAL: The telegraph has already informed you of the disaster of the 19th; I now write to give you a fuller account of the matter.
Having received information that the enema was continuing to repair the Manassas road, and that he had moved back from Fisher's Hill, I moved on the 12th toward Strasburg. for the purpose of endeavoring to thwart his purposes if he should contemplate moving across the Ridge or sending troops to Grant
On the 13th I made a reconnaissance in force beyond Strasburg, and found the enemy on the north bank of Cedar Creek and on both sides of the pike. This was too strong a position to attack in front. I therefore encamped my force at Fisher's Hill and waited to see whether the enemy would move, but he commenced fortifying.
On the night of the 16th Rosser, with two brigades of cavalry and a brigade of infantry mounted behind his men, was sent around the left to surprise what was reported by his scouts to be the camp of a division of cavalry. He found, however, that the ca up had been moved' and be only found a picket, which he captured. As I could not remain at Fisher's Hill, for want of forage, I then determined to try and get around one of the enemy's flanks and surprise him in camp. After ascertaining the location of the enemy's camps from observations from a signal station on Massanutten Mountain, I determined to move around the left hank of the enemy. I selected this flank from information furnished by General Gordon and Captain Hotchkiss, who had gone to the signal station, and because the greater part of the enemy's cavalry was on his right, and Rosser's attempt had caused that flank to be closely picketed. To get around the enemy's left was a very difficult undertaking however, as the river had to be crossed twice, and between the mountain and river, where the troops had to pass, to the lower ford there was only a rugged pathway. I thought, however, the chances of success would be greater from the fact that the enemy would not expect a move in that direction on account of the difficulties attending it and the great strength of their position on that flank. The movement was accordingly begun on the night of the 18th just after dark, Gordon's, Ramseur's, and Pegram's divisions being sent across the river and around the foot of the mountain, all under the command of General Gordon, and late at night I moved with Kershaw's division through Strasburg toward a ford on Cedar Creek just above its mouth, and Wharton was moved on the pike toward the enemy's front, in which road the artillery was also moved. The arrangement was for Gordon to come around in the rear, for Kershaw to attack the left flank, and for Gordon [Wharton?] to advance in front, supporting the artillery, which was to open on the enemy when he should turn on Gordon or Kershaw, and the attack was to begin at 5 a. m. on the l9tb. Rosser was sent to the left to occupy the enemy's cavalry, and Lomax, who had been sent down the Luray Valley, was ordered to KEershaw reached the enemy's left work and attacked and carried it without the least difficulty, and very shortly afterward Gordon attacked in the rear, and they swept everything before them, routing the Eighth and Nineteenth Corps completely, getting possession of their camp and capturing 18 pieces of artillery and about 1,300 prisoners. They moved across the pike toward the camp of the Sixth Corps, and Wharton was crossed over, the artillery following him, but the Sixth Corps, which was on the enemy's extreme right of his infantry, was not surprised in camp, because Rosser had commenced the attack on that flank about the same time as the attack on the other, and the firing on the left gave that corps sufficient time to form and move out of camp and it was found posted on a ridge on the west of the pike and parallel to it, and this corps offered considerable resistance. The artillery was brought up and opened on it, when it fell back to the north of Middletown and made a stand on a commanding ridge running across the pike In the meantime the enemy's cavalry was threatening our right flank and rear, and the country being perfectly open, and having on that flank only Lomax s old brigade, numbering about 300 men, it became necessary to make dispositions to prevent a cavalry charge, and a portion of the troops were moved to the right for that purpose, and word was sent to Gordon, who had got on the left with his division, and Kershaw, who was there also, to swing round and advance with their divisions but they stated in reply that a heavy force of cavalry had got in their front and that their ranks were so depleted by the number of men who had stopped in the camps to plunder that they could not advance them Rosser also sent word that when he attacked the cavalry he encountered a part of the Sixth Corps supporting it; that a very heavy force of cavalry had massed in his front, and that it was too strong for him, and that he would have to fall back. I sent word to him to get some position that he could hold, and the cavalry in front of Kershaw and Gordon having moved toward Rosser, they were moved forward and a line was formed north of Middletown facing the enemy. The cavalry on the right made several efforts to charge that flank, but was driven back so many of our men had stopped in the camp to plunder (in which I am sorry to say that officers participated), the country was so open and the enemy s cavalry so strong, that I did not deem it prudent to press farther, especially as Lomax had not come up. I determined therefore, to content myself with trying to hold the advantages I had gained until all my troops had come up and the captured property was secured. If I had had but one division of fresh troops I could have made the victory complete and beyond all danger of a reverse We continued to hold our position until late in the afternoon, when the enemy commenced advancing, and was driven back on the right center by Ramseur, but Gordon's division, on the left, subsequently gave way, and Kershaw's and Ramsey did so also, when they found Gordon's giving way, not because there was any pressure on them, but from an insane idea of being flanked. Some of them, however, were rallied, and with the help of the artillery the army was checked for some time, but a great number of the men could not be stopped, but continued to go to the rear. The enemy again made a demonstration and General Ramseur, who was acting with great gallantry, was wounded, and the left again gave way, and then the whole command, falling back in such a panic that I had to order Pegram's and Wharton's commands, which were very small and on the right, to fall back and most of them took the panic also. I found it impossible to rally the troops. They would not listen to entreaties, threats, or appeals of any kind. A terror of the enemy's cavalry had seized them, and there was no holding them. They left the field in the greatest confusion. All the captured artillery had been carried across Cedar Creek, and a large number of captured wagons and ambulances, and we succeeded in crossing our own artillery over, and everything would have been saved if we could have rallied 500 men, but the panic was so great that nothing could be done. A small body of the enemy's cavalry dashed across Cedar Creek above the bridge, and got into the train and artillery .running back on the pike, and passed through our men to this side of Strasburg, tore up a bridge, and thus succeeded in capturing the greater part of the artillery and a number of ordnance and medical wagons and ambulances. The men scattered on the sides, and the rout was as thorough and disgraceful as ever happened to our army.
After the utter failure of all my attempts to rally the men I went to Fisher's Hill with the hope of rallying the troops there and forming them in the trenches, but when they reached that position the only organized body of men left was the prisoners, 1,300 in number, and the provost-guard in charge of them, and I believe that the appearance of prisoners moving back in a body alone arrested the progress of the enemy's cavalry, as it was too dark for them to discover what they were. Many of the men stopped at Fishers Hill and went to their old camps, but no organization of them could be effected, and nothing saved us but the inability of the enemy to follow with his infantry and his expectation that we would make a stand there. The state of things was distressing and mortifying beyond measure. We had within our grasp a glorious victory, and lost it by the uncontrollable propensity of our men for plunder, in the first place, and the subsequent panic among those who had kept their places, which was without sufficient cause, for I believe that the enemy had only made the movement against us as a demonstration, hoping to protect his stores, &c., at Winchester, and that the rout of our troops was a surprise to him. I had endeavored to guard against the dangers of stopping to plunder in the camps by cautioning the division commanders and ordering them to caution their subordinates and take the most rigid measures to prevent it, and I endeavored to arrest the evil while in progress without avail. The truth is, we have very few field or company officers worth anything, almost all our good officers of that kind having been killed, wounded, or captured, and it is impossible to preserve discipline without good field and company officers.
I send you a map[See Atlas, Plate LXXXII,Map9] of the battle-field with the surrounding country. You will see marked out on it the different routes of the several columns. The plan was a bold one and was vigorously pursued by the division commanders. and it was successful, but the victory already gained was lost by the subsequent bad conduct of the troops. The artillery throughout, from first to last, in this as well as in all the actions I have had, behaved nobly, both officers and men, and not a piece of artillery has been lost by any fault of theirs. I attribute tints good conduct old their part to the vast superiority of the officers. Colonel Carter and all his battalion commanders richly deserve promotion. They not only fought their guns gallantly and efficiently, but they made the most strenuous efforts to rally the infantry.
It is mortifying to me, general, to have to make these explanations of my reverses. They are due to no want of effort on my part, though it may be that I have not the capacity or judgment to prevent them. I have labored faithfully to gain success, and I have not failed to expose my person and to set an example to my men. I know that I shall have to endure censure from those who do not understand my position and difficulties, but I am still willing to make renewed efforts. If you think, however, that the interests of the service would be promoted by a change of commanders, I beg you will have no hesitation in making the change. The interests of the service are far beyond any mere personal considerations, and if they require it I am willing to surrender my command into other hands. Though this affair has resulted so disastrously to my command, yet I think it is not entirely without compensating benefits. The Sixth Corps had already begun to move off to Grant and my movement brought it back, and Sheridan's forces are now so shattered that he will not be able to send Grant any efficient aid for some time. I think he will be afraid to trust the Eighth and Nineteenth Corps.
The enemy's loss in killed and wounded was very heavy, and we took 1,300 prisoners, making, with some taken by Rosser, and others taken on the day of reconnaissance, over 1,500. My loss in killed and wounded was not more than 700 or 800, and I think very few prisoners were lost. A number of my men are still out, but they are coming in. Except for the loss of my artillery the enemy has far the worst of it We secured some of the captured artillery, and our net loss is twenty three pieces. I still have twenty pieces besides the horse artillery The enemy is not pursuing, and I will remain here and organize any troops.
J. A. EARLY
General R. E. LEE,
Commanding Army of Northern Virginia.