Horace Greeley.

The American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 online

. (page 87 of 113)
Online LibraryHorace GreeleyThe American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 → online text (page 87 of 113)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and Grant moat dreaded — ^a with-
drawal of our army from the James —
were so grave, that Grant hesitated
to authorize a determined advance
until he had made him a second
visit," and become convinced that he
had a lieutenant on the Potomac who
thoroughly comprehended his posi-
tion, his work, bis strength, and that
of his antagonist, and needed but
liberty of action and a trust which his
achievements would abundantly just-
ify. "Isaw,"saysGrant,inhisreport,
" that but two words of instruction
were necessary — * Go in 1' *' So he
gave them, and Sheridan went in.

Early held the west bimk of
Opequan creek, covering Winchester,
Sheridan was in his front and to his
right, holding Berry ville. In a skill-
ful and spirited reconnoissance, Gen.
Wilson had struck" the flank of
Kershaw's division, capturing with-
out loss CoL Hennegan and 171 of
the 8th S. C. The principal value
of such a stroke inheres in its e£Eect
on the spirits of an army ; and Sheri-
dan, believing his in the mood for
battle, drew out, at 2 a. m.," his entire
force, resolved to carry the enemy's
position by assault.

That position was naturally strong,
and had been thoroughly fortified.
To assail it, our army had to advance
through a narrow ravine, shut in by
steep, thickly wooded hills, form in
an irregular, undulating valley in
the enemy's front, advance through
a wood, and attack desperately his
center, while flanking and crushing
in his left. His right, too strongly
posted to be turned, was to be men-

aced and kept starong and idle, if
possible; he striving in turn to thmst
that wing through our left and seize
the mouth of the ravine, so as at
once to sever our army and dq>riye
its right of any line of retreat.

It was 10 A. H. when the €th corps
emerged frx}m the ravine, and took
ground on our left; Kicketts's divi-
sion pushing forward, through thick
woods and over steep hills, where
musketry only could be used, right
against the en^ny's front ; for here
ground must be gained and held to
enable the 8th corps to debouch be-
hind our front from the pass, torn
the enemy's left, and diarge 1dm in
flank and rear. When our impetn-
ouB advance had cleared the woods
and heights, a broad, open valley
was before them, widi the Rebel
army sheltered by the woods and
rocks beyond ; whence a terrific shell-
ing already told upon our ranks.
Yet so vehement and resolute was
the chaise of Grover's division of the
19th corps that Early's first line was
carried — Gen. Bhodes being kiUed
and three Bebel colonels sent to onr
rear as prisoners.

Early, seeing that no moment was
to be lost, promptly hurled two fresh
divisions upon Grover and lUcketts,
pushing them back' in disorder and
with fearftil loss ; a heavy fire open*
ing on their flank as they suited to-
ward the pass — ^many regiments ut-
terly broken, their officers fSdlen, and
the battle seemingly lost beyond
hope. The 156th N.York had barrfy
40 men grouped around its colors ;
Capt. R^y, 24th* Iowa, was seen re-
treating firmly, deliberately, follow-
ed by a sergeant and 12 men who,
reaching the assigned rallying-point,

» Sept 16.

'Sept 13.

"Sept 18^

Digitized by





halted, faced to the front, and gave
three hearty cheers. Five minutes
later, that platoon had been swelled
by other such to a battalion ; while
Oapt. Bradbury, 1st Maine battery,
had, by Grover's order, posted two
gtms in a gap and opened on the ex-
tdtant Rebels ; who, charging to seize
them, received a volley in the rear
from the 131st N. York, which Gen.
Emory had rallied and posted in a
projection of wood, with orders not
to fire till the enemy should have
passed them. As tiiey staggered
under this unexpected salute, a vol-
ley fit)m the newly formed line in
VOL. n. — 39

their front sent them pell-mell back
across the fields to their original
cover. And now our shattered front,
closing in from right and left, was
reformed and advanced over most\>f
the ground it had lost ; the 1st divis-
ion of the 19th corps — still glorying
in its achievements at Port Hudson
and Pleasant Hill — ^instead of follow-
ing the 8th corps in the flank move-
ment, as had been intended, was
brought back and used to piecd out
and brace up the center ; where des-
perate fighting, with little advantage
to either side, and heavy loss at least
to ours, was maintained till 3 p.m.

And now a shout from the far
right, shut out from view by woods
and hills, announced that the turning
movement was eflTected — ^that our
cavalry under Torbert, and Crook
with his 8th corps (the ^Army of
West Virginia' that was), have struck
the enemy's left in fiank, and are
charging it under a terrible fire. In-
stantly, a redoubled fire breaks out
along our central front, in spite of the
general scarcity of cartridges; and,
these being soon exhausted. Col*
Thomas, 8A Vermont, ordered his
men to charge at double quick with
the bayonet. In vain general officers
shouted* Halt r * lie down P * Wait
for supports I' &c. ; for, while some
were still confrised and vacillating, a
staff officer from the right gallopea
in front, and pointed with his saber
to the woods which sheltered the
enemy. At once, all dissent was
silenced, all hesitation at an end;
the whole center, as one man, swept
forward, cheering, and plunged into
the woods, meeting there Crook's
corps, charging from the flank. All
the Rebels who could still travel
were by this time going or gone.

Digitized by




A height in the rear of Early's po-
sition, crowned by a fort, still held
out; but Crook's column quickly
stormed and carried both. And now
our* cavalry — ^which had been fight-
ing and routing the enemy's — came
up on our right, and charged superb-
ly on the rear of the flying foe, ta-
king 'irOO prisoners and 2 guns at the
first onset ; following tiU dark close
on the heels of the fugitives, and
gathering up prisoners, &c., as they
hurried through Winchester in utter
rout and disintegration.

Our loss in this battle was fully
3,000, including Gen. David A, Rus-
sell, killed, with Gens. Mcintosh,
Chapman, and Upton wounded. The
heroic 19th corps — on which fell the
brunt of the fight — alone lost 1,940
killed and wounded. Among the
Eebels killed were Gens. Ehodes and
A. 0. Godwin. Pollard admits a
loss of 3,000 on their side ; but, as we
took 3,000 prisoners, with 6 guns, it
was probably much greater.

Early fell back to Fisher's TTttx,
8 miles south of "Winchester, between
the North and Massanutten moun-
tains — ^regarded as the very strongest
position in the Valley. Sheridan
followed sharply, allowing but two
days to intervene between his first
and his second victory. Advancing
the 6th corps against the fix)nt and
the 19th on the left of the Eebel
stronghold, he again sent the 8th by
a long circuit around on the right,
striking heavily in fiank and rear,
while a vigorous attack in fi^nt broke
the enemy's center. The victory here
was even more decisive, as well as far
more cheaply purdiased, than that
won at the Opequan. Though our
attack could not be made till 4 p. m.,

there was still time enough to take
1,100 prisoners, 16 guns, &c., &c
The pursuit hence was so sharp that
Early had to abandon the Yalley and
take to the mountains, where cavaby
could with difficxdty operate. Sheri-
dan followed with infantry and artil-
lery to Port Republic," where he
captured and destroyed 75 wagons;
sending his cavalry, under Torbert,
to Staunton, where they destroyed
large quantities of army supplies, and
thence to "Waynesborough, where the
Virginia Central railroad was broken
up, the bridge burned, and a large
Confederate tannery destroyed.

Gen. Grant, in his letter of instruc-
tions to Gten. Hunter,** had directed

" In pnshing tip the Shenandoah rallej,
where it is expected you will have to go first
or last, it is desirable that nothirig shouldhe
^ft to invite the enemy to return. Take all
provisions, forage, and stoek, wanted for the
use of your command ; such as can not be
consumed, destroy. It is not desirable that
the 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 deter-
mined to stop them at all hazards.*^

This order, Sheridan, in returning
down the Valley, executed to the le^
ter. Whatever of grain and forage
had escaped appropriation or destruc-
tion by one or another of the ar-
mies which had so frequently chased
each other up and down this narrow
but fertile and productive vale, was
now given to the torch. Some of it
was the property of men who not
only adhered to the Union, but were
fighting to uphold it; more belonged
to Quakers, Tunkers, &c., who ab-
horred bloodshed, and had taken no
part in the strife, imless under ab-
solute constraint. The excuse, of

* Sept 25.

'Aug. 5.

Digitized by




course, was the certainty that what-
ever was left would be Tised to feed
the Bebel armies and to facilitate
raids and incnrsions on onr posts be-
low. The recent foolish as well as
culpable burning of Chambersburg —
to say nothing of the unauthorized
but openly justified arson and butch-
ery at Lawrence — ^furnished ample
precedents ; but it is not obvious that
the National cause was advanced or
the National prestige exalted by this
resort to one of the very harshest and
most questionable erpedients not ab-
solutely forbidden by the laws of
civilized warfare.

Sheridan reports this devastation,
in a dispatch to Grant, as follows :

"Woodstock, Ya., Oct. 7, 1864—9 p. m.
"Lt.-Gen. U. S. Grant:

"I have the honor to report my com-
mand at this point to-night. I conmienoed
moving hack from Port Republic, Mount
Crawford, Bridgewater, and Harrisonburg,
yesterday morning.

"The grain and forage in advance of
these points had previously been destroyed.

" In moving back to this point, the whole
country from the Blue ridge to the North
mountain has been made untenable for a
Rebel army. I have destroyed over 2,000
bams filled with wheat and hay and farm-
ing implements, over 70 mills filled with
flour and wheat; have driven in front of
the army over 4,000 head of stock, and
have killed and issued to the troops not less
than 8,000 sheep. This destruction em-
braces the Luray valley and Little Fort val-
ley as well as the main valley.

"A large number of horses have been ob-
tained, a proper estimate of which I can not
now make.

" Lt. John R Meigs, my engineer officer,
was murdered beyond Harrisonburg near
Dayton. For this atrocious act, all the houses
wiUiin an area of five miles were burned.

" Since I came into the Valley from Har-
per's Ferry, every train, every small party,
and every straggler, has been bushwhacked
by the people ; many of whom have protec-
tion papers from commanders who have
been hitherto in that valley.

" The people here are getting sick of the
war. Heretofore, they have had no reason
to complain, because they have been living
in great abundance.

**I have not been followed by the enemy
to this point, with the exception of a small
force of Rebel cavalry that showed them-
selves some distance behind my rear-guard

The Richmond Whig thereupon
gravely proposed to retaliate by
sending incendiaries to fire the cities
of the loyal States, saying:

"There is one effectual way, and only
one we know o^ to arrest and prevent this
and every other sort of atrocity — and that
is, to bum one of the chief cities of the ene-
my, say Boston, Philadelphia, or Cincinnati,
and let its fate hang over the others as a
warning of what may be done, and what
viill be done to them if the present system
of war on the part of the enemy is contin-
ued. If we are asked how such a thing
can be done, we answer, nothing would be
easier. A million of dollars would lay the
proudest city of the enemy in ashes. The
men to execute the work are already there.
There would be no difficulty in finding there,
here, or in Canada, suitable persons to take
charge of the enterprise and arrange its de-
tails. Twenty men, with plans all precon-
certed and means provided, selecting some
dry, windy night, might fire Boston in a
himdred places and wrap it in flames from
center to suburb. They might retaliate on
Richmond, Charleston, &c. Let them do so
if they dare I It is a game at which we can
beat them. New York is worth twenty
Richmonds. They have a dozen towns to
our one ; and in their towns is centered
nearly all their wealth. It would not be
immoral and barbarous. It is not immoral
nor barbarous to defend yourself by any
means or with any weapon the enemy may
employ for your destruction. They choose
to substitute the torch for the sword. We
may so use their own weapon as to make
them repent, literally in sackcloth and ashes,
that they ever adopted it If the Executive
is not ready for this, we commend the mat-
ter to the secret deliberation of the Con-
gress about to meet."

The atrocity here recommended
was actually attempted in Nev York,
a few weeks afterward — several of
the great hotels being simultaneously
fired by emissaries who had taken
lodgings therein for that purpose.
Each was quickly extinguished, when
little damage had been done.

Sheridan's rear, as he moved down

Digitized by




to Strasbnrg, being infested" by Rebel
bbrse under Rosser, he ordered Tor-
bert, commanding his cavalry, to turn
npon and chastise the presumption.
The Rebels broke and fled at the
first charge, and were chased back
26 miles ; losing 11 guns, 47 wagons,
and 330 prisoners. Sheridan^s retreat
was no farther molested ; but, having
halted near Fisher's hill. Early at-
tempted *• to steal upon him unaware,
but found him ready, and, after a
short struggle, the Rebel chief drew
ofi^ badly worsted.

Sheridan now left" on a flying visit
to "Washington, supposing his adver-
sary had had fighting enough for the
season. He miscalculated. Early,
aware of our commander's absence,
stung by his repeated defeats, and
considerably reenforced, resolved on
retrieving his ragged fortunes by a
daring enterprise — nothing less than
the surprise and rout of a veteran
army. Having strengthened himself
to the utmost, and thoroughly organ-
ized his forces in his forest-screened
camp near Fisher's hill, he silently
moved out at nightfall," resolved to
flank our position across Cedab cbeek,
6 miles distant, and fall on our sleep-
ing camps at daybreak next morning.

Our forces were encamped on three
crests or ridges : the Army of West
Virginia (Crook's) in fix>nt ; the 19th
corps (Emory's) half a mile behind it ;
the 6th corps (Wright's) to the right
and rear of the 19th. Kitching's pro-
visional division lay behind Crook's
left ; the cavalry, under Torbert, on
the right of the 6th. It is a fact,
though no excuse, that they had no
more apprehension of an attack from
Early than from Canada.

Early had arranged his army in

two columns, in order to strike ours
at once on both flanks. He had of
course to leave the turnpike and
move over rugged paths along the
mountain-wde, climbing up and down
steep hills, holding on by bushes,
where horses could hardly keep their
feet, and twice fording the North fork
of the Shenandoah — ^the second time
in the very face of our pickets. For
miles, his right column skirted the
left of Crook's position, where an
alarm would have exposed him to
utter destruction. So imperative was
the requirement of silence that his
men had been made to leave their
canteens in camp, lest they should
clatter against their muskets. The
divisions of Gordon, Ramseur, and
Pegram thus stole by our left ; those
of Kershaw and Wharton simultane-
ously flanking our right.

At 2 A. M., the pickets of the 5th
N. T. heavy artillery (Kitching's di-
vision) heard a rustling of under-
brush and a sound as of stealthy,
multitudinous trampling; and two
posts were relieved and sent into
camp with the report. Qen. Crook
thereupon ordered that a good look-
out be kept, but sent out no reconnoi-
tering party ; even the gaps in his
front line caused by detailing regi-
ments for picket duty were not filled ;
and, when the crash came, the mus-
kets of many of our men were not
loaded. There was some suspicion
and uneasiness in Crook's command,
but no serious preparation.

An hour before dawn, the Rebels
had all reached, without obstruction
or mishap, the positions severally as-
signed them, and stood shivering in
the chill mist, awaiting the order to
attack. No Bound of alarm, no hum

"Oct. 9.

"Got 12.

"Oct 16

"Get 18.

Digitized by




of preparation, disquieted them. At
length, as the gray light of dawn
disclosed the eastern hill-tops, a tre-
mendous volley of musketry, on either
flank and away to the rear, startled
the sleepers into bewildered con-
sciousness; and the next moment,
with their well known battle-yell,
the charging lines came on.

'* Tell the brigade conmianders to
move their men into the trenches,^'
said Gen. Orover, calmly ; and the
order was given ; but it was already
too late. The Bebels, disdaining to
notice the pIcket-fire,wore themselves
in the trenches on both flanks before
our astonished soldiers could occupy
them in effective force. On our side,
all was amazement and concision;
on theirs, thorough wakefulness and
perfect comprehension. In fifteen
minutes, the Army of West Viiginia
was a flying mob ; one battalion of
its picket-line had lost 100 killed and
wounded, and seven hundred prison-
ers. The enemy, knowing every foot
of the ground as familiarly as their
own door-yards, never stopped to re-
connoiter or consider, but rushed on
with incredible celerity.

Emory tried, of course, to stop
them, but with no chance of success.
Assailed in overwhelming force in
front, on both flanks, and well to the
rear, he pushed forward McMillen's
brigade to breast the Eebel torrent,
and give time for the 6th corps to
come up. One-third of it was kill ed
and wounded in the effort ; but to no
purpose, though two other brigades
were sent up to its support. But
Early's three divisions on our left,
led by Gordon, continued their flank-
ing advance, turning us out of every
position whereon a stand had been
made; while Kershaw led the col-

umn pres^ng flercely on our right
and front. The resistance of the
19th corps was brief and bloody;
and, when it had melted away, the
6th, assailed in turn, gave ground —
slowly, in good order, but as if con-
sciously unable to resist the deter-
mined charge of the flushed and eager
foe. And when at length it had
gained a position where it seemed
able and willing to stand, Wright
saw that it had been crowded clear
off the turnpike, while our forces had
no other line of concentration or re-
treat ; so that to hold here was to
enable Gordon to interpose between
it and the rest of our army : hence he
ordered a general retreat; which was
made in good order : our columns in-
clining toward the turnpike so as to
recover their communications. The
enemy, intent on plundering our cap-
tured camps, and doubtless hungry,
thirsty, and exhausted with sixteen
hours' arduous marching and fight-
ing, had halted, or were advancing
slowly and cautiously, their muskets
silent, with but occasional shots at
long range from their artillery. We
had lost, beside our killed and wound-
ed, the battle, our camps, defenses,
equipage, 24 guns, and 1,200 pris-

Sheridan had slept xmapprehen-
sively at Winchester, on his return
from Washington, while the enemy
were executing his bold movement ;
but the morning breeze waft;ed omi-
nous sounds to his ears ; and* he was
soon riding rapidly southward, and
not long in meeting the kind of drift
that may be seen in the rear of every
fighting army, more especially if that
army is being worsted. Putting
spurs to his horse, he reached the
front at 10 A. M. ; just as Wright had

Digitized by




halted and the enemy had ceased to
press him.

The current notion that our army
instantly faced to the front, charged,
and routed the exultant foe, does
justice neither to Sheridan nor to
facts. The defeated are not thus
easily converted into conquerors.
Sheridan met his crest-fallen, shat-
tered battalions without a word of
reproach, but joyously, inspiringly,
swinging his cap and shouting to the
stragglers as he rode rapidly past
them — "Face the other way, boys!
We are going back to our camps!
We are going to lick them out of
their boots !'' Most of them obeyed,
as the weaker wiU submits to the
stronger. Then, having ordered each
command to face to the front, form
line, and advance, he rode for two
hours along that line, gathering in-
formation, and studying the ground,
while he rapidly and cheeringly
talked to his soldiers. " Boys, if I
had been here, this would not have
happened!" he assured them, and
they believed it. And so their spirits
gradually rose, and they became con-
vinced that their defeat was an awk-
ward accident — unpleasant, of course,
but such ad might happen to any
army so self-confident as to be easily
caught napping. Finally, they be-
gan to doubt that they had actually
been beaten at all.

Emory's 19th corps was strongly
posted in a dense wood on the left,
and had thrown up a rude breast-
work of rocks and rails along its front.
Here he was attacked at 1 p. m., but
not in great f6rce nor desperately;
and, after a spirited fusillade, he sent
word that the enemy had been re-
pulsed. Sheridan accepted and re-
ported the tidings as very natural and

indicative of more such to come. And
now, at 3 p. M., all being ready, the
order was given, "The entire line
will advance. The 19th corps will
move in connection with the 6th.
The right of the 19th will swing to-
ward the left, so as to drive the ene-
my upon the pike." Steadily, not
eagerly, our infantry rose to their
feet, and went forwjud through the
woods to the open ground beyond.
The scream of shells, the ratlle of
musketry, the charging shout, rolled
at once from right to left ; and soon
the Rebels' front line was carried
and their left decidedly turned. Gor-
don's division, which led the charge on
our left that morning, had now been
flanked and driven, if not broken.

There was a pause in the advance,
but not in the fight TheBebel guns
(they had a good part of ours) opened
on our new position, and were re-
plied to mainly by musketry. Again
Sheridan moved along our front, cor-
recting its formation, giving particu-
lar orders to subordinates, and words
of cheer and confidence to alL Emo-
ry's Ist division was formed nearly
at right angles with the Rebels' front,
so as to face the turnpike and crowd
them, when it charged, toward the
way they should go. And now came
the second charge, more determined,
more confident, more comprehensive
than the first ; our cavalry advancing
on both wings and, as the Rebel fi*ont
gave way, charging fiercely upon their
disordered ranks, and running them
through Strasburg. Our weary, fiun-
ished infantry — ^whose rations and
cooks had long since paid tribute to
the enemy, or found shdter in Win-
chester — sank down in their recovered
quarters to shiver through the night
as they could.

Digitized by





Our loss in this double battle was
nearly 3,000, including Gen. D. D.
Bidwell, of N. Y., and CoL Jo. Tho-
burn, killed, with Gens. Wright
(slightly), Grover, Eicketts, and act-
ing Brigadiers J. H. Kitching and E.
G. McKinzie, wounded. Many of our
men taken prisoners in the morning
were rescued toward evening. The
Eebel loss was heavier, including
Gen. Eamseur (mortally wounded,
and died a prisoner next day), 1,500
prisoners, 23 guns (not counting the
2i lost by us in the morning and re-
covered, at night), at least 1,500 small

arms, besides most of their caissons,
wagons, &c. In fact, Early's army
was virtually destroyed ; so tfiat, with
the exception of two or three cavalry
skirmishes, there was no more %ht-
ing " in the Valley, because there was
very little left for Sheridan to fight.

Online LibraryHorace GreeleyThe American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 → online text (page 87 of 113)