CMH Remembers: 150th Anniversary
The Battle of Cedar Creek, 1864
October 2014, CMH
On 10 October, 1864, Sheridan put his army of about thirty-one thousand men into camp along the north side of Cedar Creek near the Valley Pike around Middletown. Brig. Gen. George Crook's two Army of West Virginia divisions and an attached Provisional Division under Col. John H. Kitching were located east of the Pike. Thoburn's 1st Division took a position on high ground almost a mile forward (south) of Colonel Hayes' 2d Division and Kitching's men. West of the Pike, Emory's XIX Corps encamped in the fields surrounding Belle Grove plantation. On 12 October, Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright and the VI Corps left the Valley and headed east to rejoin Grant because Sheridan assumed that General Jubal Early's defeated rebels posed little threat.
General Jubal Early
Miles to the south, Early had regrouped his army near Waynesboro. When he learned of Wright's departure, he moved his troops north, and by 13 October his men were a few miles south of Cedar Creek. At this point his army numbered between fifteen thousand and twenty thousand men. His unexpected presence was disclosed to the Union troops by a sharp fight at Hupp's Hill near Strasburg between Thoburn's Union division and Maj. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw's rebel troops, who had earlier been recalled to the Valley as they marched toward Richmond. Meanwhile, Sheridan received orders from Secretary of War Stanton to report to Washington for a planning conference. Uneasy about Early's return to the lower Valley, Sheridan recalled VI Corps and placed it in reserve north of Emory's troops at Belle Grove. On 16 October, Sheridan left Wright in charge of the army, telling him to be "well prepared" for a possible Union assault. Wright shifted most of the cavalry to the west flank, which he considered vulnerable to attack. After a rushed meeting in Washington, Sheridan returned to Winchester late on 18 October where he spent the night, having been assured by General Wright that all was quiet along Cedar Creek.
The Confederates, however, were not inactive. With his supplies dwindling, Early had to leave the Valley or defeat Sheridan in battle. Based on a personal reconnaissance by Gordon, Early laid out his plan of attack on 18 October. Under a bright moon and using a little-known path and ford over the North Fork of the Shenandoah, Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's, Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur's, and Brig. Gen. John Pegram's divisions slipped around Thoburn and advanced toward Hayes and Kitching. Meanwhile, Kershaw's division crossed Cedar Creek in front of Thoburn and launched an assault at 0530. The wave of Kershaw's Confederates struck just as Union troops were cooking breakfast. Kershaw's men overran Thoburn's surprised division, killing Thoburn. Not long after, Gordon's, Ramseur's, and Pegram's divisions fell on Crook's main line. Hayes' troops put up a strong fight for a time, but Kitching's ad hoc division fled immediately. Meanwhile, Wharton's troops advanced north on the Valley Pike to strike at the XIX Corps' lines. Emory had little time to realign units, and, when Wharton's men penetrated the rear of XIX Corps' camp, Emory's men fell back to fight stubbornly from the reverse side of their trenches.
John B. Gordon
Stephen D. Ramseur
Josheph B. Kershaw
Early's attacking formations pushed the Federals beyond Belle Grove where XIX Corps and Crooks' survivors fought individual battles against the onrushing Confederates. Their stubborn resistance gave VI Corps time to prepare to meet the assault, allowing XIX Corps fugitives to re-form. At a crucial point, Getty's 2d Division of VI Corps held out alone for an hour against four of Early's divisions. On the Union right, Merritt's blue-coated troopers prevented further disaster to the Union forces by beating back an attack by Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Rosser's Confederate cavalry. Around 1100, General Sheridan arrived on the battlefield after a frantic ride from Winchester. He saw wounded and disheartened men fleeing the fight but also noted some units standing firm. Again in command, Sheridan set about reestablishing a battle line along a ridge about two miles north of Cedar Creek.
William H. Emory
Horatio G. Wright
By early afternoon Emory brought his bloodied XIX Corps brigades back into line on the right of VI Corps. The momentum of the Confederate attack had waned as Early's famished troops stopped to eat the food and loot the gear they found in the abandoned Union camps. For several hours there was a lull in the engagement as Early and his officers tried to reorganize and consolidate their units, but, before the Confederate attack could resume, Sheridan struck back. About 1630 the reenergized VI and XIX Corps attacked southward with a cavalry division on each flank. After hard fighting, XIX Corps advanced against the Confederate left, which began to crumble. Soon the whole rebel line gave way, and the retreat became a rout. The disorderly mass of Confederates fled back across Cedar Creek and beyond. Sheridan's infantry stopped at the creek, but Torbert's cavalry pursued Early back to Fisher's Hill, about six miles south. In the predawn hours of the next morning, Early's demoralized army resumed its retreat toward New Market.
Sheridan's Ride. Battle of Cedar Creek.
Artist Waud, Alfred R. (Alfred Rudolph), 1828-1891
Date Created/Published: 1864 October 19
Source: Library of Congress
Battle of Cedar Creek
Creator(s): Kurz & Allison. Created/Published: c1890 Dec. 12.
Sketch of the battle of Belle Grove or Cedar Creek, Wednesday, Oct'r 19th, 1864
Contributor Names: Hotchkiss, Jedediah, 1828-1899
Source: Library of Congress
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