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148th Anniversary Reenactment of
he Battle of Cedar Creek - October 20-21, 2012
The Battle of Cedar Creek - October 19, 1864
Confederate Strength ’Äì 21,000; Casualties ’Äì 2,910
Union Strength ’Äì 32,000; Casualties ’Äì 5,672
In early October of 1864, the Federal Army of the Shenandoah, having soundly defeated the Confederate Army of the Valley at Winchester, (September 19th ), and again at Fisher’s Hill, (September 22nd ), chased the Confederate forces out of the Shenandoah Valley and either burned or appropriated all food reserves and livestock between Staunton and Strasburg. Thinking he had finally denied the Valley to the Confederacy ’Äì both as a food source and as an invasion route to the north ’Äì Major General Philip Sheridan left his army camped along Cedar Creek at Middletown and journeyed to Washington for consultations with Grant.
On the morning of October 19th, Lt. General Jubal Early, with his hungry and poorly equipped soldiers, launched a desperate surprise attack on the sleeping Federal Army. Attacking from the East, instead of the South, he drove the Federals from their camps, past Belle Grove Plantation and through Middletown. At midday, Early halted his forces at the northern edge of Middletown to consolidate his victory and regroup. Declining to heed the advice of his staff to pursue the retreating Federals, Early proclaimed, “This is glory enough for one day”.
US Maj. Gen. Sheridan had returned to Winchester on October 18th and awakened to the sounds of the Middletown battle on the morning of the 19th. He made a hard ride up the Valley Pike to take command of his army which was being organized for a retreat northward. When scouts reported that no Confederate reinforcements were coming, Sheridan launched a counter-attack. Federal cavalry, led by Gen. George Custer and Gen. Wesley Merritt, flanked the right and left of the Confederate line while the infantry broke through the center. This turned into a total rout of the Confederate Army who retreated southward only to lose all their rolling stock when a small bridge collapsed on the south side of Strasburg.
The Federal victory ended Jubal Early’s career, lifted the pall of war-weariness from the North, helped assure the reelection of Lincoln and ended Southern hopes for a negotiated settlement of the War.
The Battle of Rutherford’s Farm - July 20, 1864
Confederate Strength - 3300; Casualties - 450
Union Strength - 2350; Casualties - 250
After being turned back from the outskirts of Washington, D.C. by the arrival of strong Union reenforcements from the lines at Petersburg, Lt. Gen. Jubal Early retreated across the Potomac and assumed at defensive position at Berryville on the west side of the Shenandoah River. Following two Union attempts to flank his position, Early ordered a withdrawal to Strasburg on July 19. This move required the evacuation of Confederate hospitals and stores from Winchester. Maj. Gen. Stephen Ramseur’s division was ordered to Winchester to cover the evacuation, but to remain on the defensive and not start a fight.
That same day, Union Maj. Gen. David Hunter, in command at Martinsburg, received a mistaken report that Confederate cavalry were organizing at Winchester for a raid north. Hunter ordered Brig. Gen. William Averell’s division south to stop them.
Ramseur arrived outside Winchester early on July 20 and sent his cavalry north of town to scout the area. The Confederate cavalry located Averell’s force and began a lively skirmish that lasted from the morning until mid-afternoon, slowly falling back in the face of superior numbers. At 2:00 PM, Ramseur’s cavalry commander suggested that the remainder of the division should march north to surprise and ambush Averell’s force. Ramseur believed he could achieve a great victory. Disobeying Early’s orders, he led his infantry north and deployed them in a heavily wooded ridgeline out of sight of the advancing Union lines. When the Yankees reached the woodline, Ramseur’s men opened fire and threw the Northern troops into confusion.
Unfortunately, Ramseur’s position in the trees meant that he could not see another Union brigade entering the woods to his left. These Northern troops outflanked Ramseur’s line and quickly drove it backwards. Unable to see clearly what was happening in the thick woods, other Confederate regiments were unable to respond to the attack in time to stop it. Ramseur’s entire force retreated in disorder to Winchester. Averell, worried about the possibility of more Confederates in Winchester, did not pursue.
Although the battle had little impact on events to come, it provided an important boost in Northern morale after a string of defeats. Ramseur, despite disobeying Early and being badly beaten, was only lightly reprimanded.