Early had succeeded in tying down a large Federal force for several months, thus helping Lee. However, at a moment of great opportunity he pulled back fatally. He had developed a risky plan which was flawlessly executed, thus neutralizing the advantages held by his enemy. But instead of remaining with the logical consequences of his high risk, he became conservative just as they were beginning to bear fruit. One critic said such a thing is common when a general's moral courage is less than his strategic genius. Early's satisfaction with half a loaf and his fixation on the Second Division, VI Corps perhaps indicate the limits of his grasp.
The lessons in leadership, command, cohesion, combined arms use, and the performance of men under stress shown by this battle have a lasting value to all serious students of military history. Although technology has overtaken the tactics used, the courage and professionalism of the combatants remains inspiring. The contribution of the Second Division, VI Corps, one unit, stands as an example of the effect a single resolutely led force can have on a battle's outcome. The same may be said of an individual, as seen by the effect of Sheridan's aggressive optimism on his whole army.
On the other hand, the battle illustrates once again the consequences of poor security and staff coordination. The Federal deaths, in the words of one Union officer, "were a high price to pay for the failure to keep one's eyes open." The cool leadership in the face of disaster on the part of the senior Federal commanders retrieved the situation and should stand as an inspiration to any leader in a dark hour.
Cedar Creek is a battle with many insights, foremost of which for an embattled leader may be never to despair regardless of the situation. Jubal Early summarized the fight with the observation: "The Yankees got whipped and we got scared."