Recently, I finished reading Jeffry D. Wert’s book, From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864. After recently visiting the Cedar Creek Battlefield, near Strasburg, Virginia, I decided I need to learn more about US Major General Philip Sheridan’s battles, as commander of the Army of the Shenandoah. In searching for books on this critical campaign, all searches pointed to this book. Being out-of-print, I had to search for a used one, of which there were several on Amazon.com. Originally published by South Mountain Press, in 1989, it was revised in 1997 as a third edition, published by Stackpole Books.
Wert spends time, during the beginning of the book, setting the groundwork for Sheridan’s appointment to command, of the Middle Department. With CS Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early’s 2nd Corps being detached, from Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, on June 13, the civilian authorities in Washington, D.C., became concerned for the defense of the capitol – and rightfully so. Early, with his newly christened Army of the Valley, would enter the Shenandoah Valley, pushing north. He would give battle, to US Major General Lew Wallace’s Federal forces, at Monocacy on July 9 and would push to the fortifications, of Washington, on July 11, where he would make a spirited showing against Fort Stevens. With reinforcements arriving, Early having accomplished Lee’s goal (reduction of US Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s forces at Petersburg), would retreat to the upper Shenandoah Valley, suffering a defeat at Snicker’s Ferry on July 17–18. Early would stop near Fisher’s Hill, and would turn and attack US Major General George Crook’s VIII Corps, at the second battle of Kernstown. He would move to Pennsylvania, burning the village of Chambersburg. All this would cause much consternation within the U.S. War Department, causing Grant to place Sheridan in command in the valley. This is where Wert’s analysis starts.
Chapter three covers Sheridan’s appointment to command, and his initial moves to meet the Confederate Army of the Valley. Chapters four, and five, cover the battle of Third Winchester, or Opequon Creek. Wert does a great job of narrating this battle, a battle which the Federal army would win, after tactical mistakes by Sheridan, would lead to significant losses. In chapter six, losses of the battle are covered, along with Early’s retreat to Fisher’s Hill. Chapter seven covers the battle of Fisher’s Hill, and is very well written. Wert’s analysis is right on. Early should have had little difficulty defending his position at Fisher’s Hill. His troop placements, and his misuse of his cavalry arm, doomed him. Once US Colonels Joseph Thoburn’s and Rutherford Hayes’s divisions flanked CS Major General Lunsford Lomax’s cavalry division, the entire Confederate line, was rolled up, upon itself. Jubal Early was very fortunate to have escaped with his army. Chapter eight covers Early’s retreat up the valley. With the Confederate forces pulled back to Brown’s Gap, Robert E. Lee would send Early reinforcements from his Army of Northern Virginia.
Chapter nine deals specifically with the forays of CS Lieutenant Colonel John S. Mosby’s Partisan Rangers. These mounted troops would harass, and embarrass Sheridan’s forces, in an area called, “Mosby’s Confederacy,” roughly the four Northern Virginia counties of Loudoun, Prince William, Fauquier and Fairfax. Sheridan’s pickets, and wagon trains, were always concerned about Mosby, and where they may turn up. To counter Mosby’s Rangers, Sheridan would create a unit of horsemen, under Captain Richard Blazer, to track down, and destroy the partisan rangers. Wert spends time, delving into the execution of a group of Mosby’s men, a reprisal for the death lieutenant Charles McMaster. Mosby would blame US Brigadier General George Custer for the deaths, but it would be US Brigadier General Wesley Merritt’s order that was followed. On November 6, Mosby’s Rangers would capture 26 members of Custer’s command. Vowing to execute an equal number of Custer’s men, the Federal cavaliers would draw slips, from a hat, to determine which seven of them would be hung. CS lieutenant Ed Thompson would be tasked with carrying out Mosby’s order at Beemer’s Woods, near Berryville. After the executions, Mosby would send Sheridan a letter, stating, “Hereafter any prisoner falling into my hands will be treated with kindness due to their condition, unless some new act of barbarity shall compel me reluctantly to adopt a course of policy repulsive to humanity.”(i) After this time, no further executions would take place between Mosby’s Rangers, and Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah.
Chapters ten through thirteen, cover the Battle of Cedar Creek. Wert’s narration, is at its best, in these chapters. He does a wonderful job covering CS Major General John B. Gordon’s difficult night march, to Sheridan’s left flank. Considered one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive flanking marches, during the war, Wert’s colorful description makes this book worthy of any history on the battle. Several other areas of this key battle are extremely well documented by Wert – US Brigadier General George Getty’s repulse of CS Major General Stephen D. Ramseur’s and Brigadier General Gabriel Wharton’s divisions, Sheridan’s arrival and reorganization of his army and Early’s failure to use Wharton’s division to block the Valley Pike – a fatal error.
In chapter fourteen, Wert does a super job evaluating the performance of each commander – Phil Sheridan and Jubal Early. Both commanders made mistakes, during this campaign. Sheridan’s advance on Winchester, sending two corps through the Berryville Road canyon, and the delay that resulted from the congestion of US Major General Horatio Wright’s VI Corps and Brevet Major General William H. Emory’s XIX corps, that would enable Jubal Early to reunite his separated army, for a defense at Winchester. Jubal Early’s errors, were by far more significant: his troop dispositions at Fisher’s Hill and his failure to secure the Federal escape route, on the Valley Pike, north of Middletown, at Cedar Creek were egregious, and caused his defeat, after a near rout of the Federals.
In summary, I would highly recommend this book, to anyone wanting a better understanding of the closing battles of Early’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
Mike’s Star Rating
(i) Wert, Jeffry D., From Winchester to Cedar Creek, p. 155