A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America/Affair at Fisher's Hill
AFFAIR AT FISHER'S HILL.
At light on the morning of the 20th, my Troops moved to Fisher's Hill without molestation from the enemy. and again took position at that point on the old line—Wharton's division being on the right, then Gordon's, Ramseur's, and Rodes', in the order in which they are mentioned. Fitz Lee's cavalry, now under Brigadier-General Wickham, was sent up the Luray Valley to a narrow pass at Millford, to try and hold that valley against the enemy's rivalry. General Ramseur was ferred to the command of Rodes' division, and Brigadier-General Pegram who had reported for duty about the 1st of August, and been in command of his brigade since that time, was left in command of the division previously commanded by Ramseur. My infantry was not able to occupy the whole line at Fisher's Hill, notwithstanding it was extended out in an attenuated line, with considerable intervals. The greater part of Lomax's cavalry was therefore dismounted, and placed on Ramseur's left, near Little North Mountain, but the line could not then be fully occupied.
This was the only position in the whole Valley where a defensive line could be taken against an enemy moving up the Valley, and it had several weak points. To have retired beyond this point, would have rendered it necessary for me to fall back to some of the gaps of the Blue Ridge, at the upper part of the Valley, and I determined therefore to make a show of a stand here, with the hope that the enemy would be deterred from attacking me in this position, as had been the case in August.
On the second day after our arrival at this place, General Breckenridge received orders from Richmond, by telegraph, to return to South- Western Virginia, and I lost the benefit of his services. He had ably co-operated with me, and our personal relations had been of the most pleasant character.
In the afternoon of the 20th, Sheridan's forces appeared on the banks of Cedar Creek, about four miles from Fisher's Hill, and the 21st, and the greater part of the 22nd, were consumed by him in reconnoitring and gradually moving his forces to my front under cover of breast works. After some skirmishing, he attained a strong position immediately in my front and fortified it, and I began to think he was satisfied with the advantage he had gained and would not probably press it further; but on the afternoon of the 22nd, I discovered that another attack was contemplated, and orders were given for my troops to retire, after dark, as I knew my force was not strong enough to resist a determined assault. Just before sunset, however, Crook's corps, which had moved to our left on the side of Little North Mountain, and under cover of the woods, forced back Lomax's dismounted cavalry, and advanced against Ramseur's left. Ramseur made an attempt to meet this movement by throwing his brigades successfully into line to the left, and Wharton's division was sent for from the right but it did not arrive. Pegram's brigades were also thrown into line in the same manner as Ramseur's, but the movement produced some disorder in both divisions, and us soon as it was observed by the enemy, he advanced along his whole line, and the mischief could not be remedied. After a very brief contest, my whole force retired in considerable confusion, but the men and officers of the artillery behaved with great coolness, righting to the very last, and I had to ride to some of the officers and order them to withdraw their guns, before they would move. In some cases, they had held out so long, and the roads leading from their positions into the Pike were so rugged, that eleven guns fell into the hands of the enemy. Vigorous pursuit was not made, and my force fell back through Woodstock to a place called the Narrow Passage, all the trains being carried off in safety.
Our loss in killed and wounded in this affair was slight, but some prisoners were taken by the enemy, the most of whom were captured while attempting to make their way across the North Fork to Massanutten Mountain, under the impression that the enemy had possession of the Valley Pike in our rear. I had the misfortune to lose my Adjutant General, Lieutenant Colonel A. S. Pendleton, a gallant and efficient young officer, who had served on General Jackson's staff during his Valley campaign, and subsequently to the time of the latter's death. Colonel Pendleton fell mortally wounded about dark, while posting a force across the Pike, a little in rear of Fisher's Hill, to check the enemy. He was acting with his accustomed gallantry, and his loss was deeply felt and regretted.
- In his account of the battle of Winchester, Grant says: "The enemy rallied and made a stand in a strong position at Fisher's Hill, where he was attacked and again defeated with heavy loss on the 20th." This makes Sheridan pursue, and attack with grout promptness and energy, if it were true, but it will be seen that the attack was not made until late on the afternoon of the 3rd day after the battle at Winchester, and that the movement on my left flank was again made by Crook. If Sheridan had not had subordinates of more ability and energy than himself, I should probably have had to write a different history of my Valley campaign.