Open main menu

A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America/Close of the Valley Campaign

< A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America

CLOSE OF THE VALLEY CAMPAIGN

After the return from Cedar Creek, the main body of my troops remained in their camp for the rest of the month without disturbance, but on the 26th of October the enemy's cavalry attacked Lomax at Millford and, after sharp lighting, was repulsed. Having heard that Sheridan was preparing to send troops to Grant, and that the Manassas Gap Railroad was being repaired, I moved down the Valley again on the 10th of November. I had received no reinforcements, except about 350 cavalry under General Cosby from Breckenridge's department in Southwestern Virginia, some returned convalescents, and several hundred conscripts who had been on details which had been revoked. On the 11th, on our approach to Cedar Creek, it was found that the enemy had fallen back towards Winchester, after having fortified and occupied a position on Hupp's Hill subsequently to the battle of Cedar Creek. Colonel Payne drove a small body of cavalry through Middle-town to Newtown, and I followed him and took position south of the latter place and in view of it. Sheridan's main force was found posted north of Newtown, in a position which he was engaged in fortifying. I remained in front of him during the 11th and 12th, Rosser being on my left flank on the Back Road, and Lomax on my right between the Valley Pike and the Front Royal road, with one brigade (McCausland's) at Cedarville on the latter road. Rosser had some skirmishing with the enemy's cavalry on the 11th, and on the 12th two divisions advanced against him, and after a heavy fight the enemy was repulsed and some prisoners captured. Colonel Payne, who was operating immediately in my front, likewise had a sharp engagement with a portion of the enemy's cavalry and defeated it. When Rosser was heavily engaged, Lomax was ordered to his assistance with a part of his command, and, during his absence, late in the afternoon, Powell's division of the enemy's cavalry attacked McCausland at Cedarville, and, after a severe fight, drove him back across the river with the loss of two pieces of artillery. At the time of this affair, a blustering wind was blowing and the firing could not be heard; and nothing was known of McCausland's misfortune until after we commenced retiring that night. In these cavalry fights three valuable officers were killed, namely: Lieutenant Colonel Marshall of Rosser's brigade, Colonel Radford of McCausland's brigade, and Captain Harvie of McCausland's staff.

Discovering that the enemy continued to fortify his position, and showed no disposition to come out of his lines with his infantry, and not being willing to attack him in his intrenchments, after the reverses I had met with, I determined to retire, as we were beyond the reach of supplies. After dark on the 12th, we moved to Fisher's Hill, and next day returned in the direction of New-Market, where we arrived on the 14th, no effort at pursuit being made. I discovered by this movement that no troops had been sent to Grant, and that the project of repairing the Manassas Gap Railroad had been abandoned.[1]

Shortly after our return to New-Market, Kershaw's division was returned to General Lee, and Cosby's cavalry to Breckenridge. On the 22nd of November two divisions of the enemy's cavalry advanced to Mount Jackson, after having driven in our cavalry pickets. A part of it crossed over the river into Meem's bottom at the foot of Rude's Hill, but was driven back by a portion of my infantry, and the whole retreated, being pursued by Wickham's brigade, under Colonel Munford, to Woodstock.

On the 27th, Rosser crossed Great North Mountain into Hardy County, with his own and Payne's brigade, and, about the 29th, surprised and captured the fortified post at New Creek, on the Baltimore and Ohio rail-road. At this place, two regiments of cavalry with their arms and colours were captured, and eight pieces of artillery and a very large amount of ordnance, quarter master, and commissary stores fell into our hands. The prisoners, numbering 800, four pieces of artillery, and some waggons and horses, were brought off, the other guns, which were heavy siege pieces, being spiked, and their carriages and a greater part of the stores destroyed. Rosser also brought off several hundred cattle and a large number of sheep from Hampshire and Hardy counties.

This expedition closed the material operations of the campaign of 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley, and, at that time, the enemy held precisely the same portion of that valley, which he held before the opening of the campaign in the spring, and no more, and the headquarters of his troops were at the same place, to-wit: "Winchester. There was this difference however: at the beginning of the campaign, he held it with comparatively a small force, and at the close, he was compelled to employ three corps of infantry and one of cavalry, for that purpose, and to guard the approaches to Washington, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. When I was detached from General Lee's army, Hunter was advancing on Lynchburg, 170 miles south of Winchester, with a very considerable force, and threatening all of General Lee's communications with a very serious danger. By a rapid movement, my force had been thrown to Lynchburg, just in time to arrest Hunter's march into that place, and he had been driven back and forced to escape into the mountains of Western Virginia, with a loss of ten pieces of artillery, and subsequent terrible suffering to his troops. Maryland and Pennsylvania had been invaded, Washington threatened and thrown into a state of frantic alarm, and Grant had been compelled to detach two corps of infantry and two divisions of cavalry from his army. Five or six thousand prisoners had been captured from the enemy and sent to Richmond, and, according to a published statement by Sheridan, his army had lost 13,831, in killed and wounded, after he took command of it. Heavy losses had been inflicted on that army by my command, before Sheridan went to the Valley, and the whole loss could not have been far from double my entire force. The enemy moreover had been deprived of the use of the Baltimore and Ohio rail-road, and the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, for three months. It is true that I had lost many valuable officers and men, and about 60 pieces of artillery, counting those lost by Ramseur and McCausland, and not deducting the 19 pieces captured from the enemy; but I think I may safely state that the fall of Lynchburg with its foundries and factories, and the consequent destruction of General Lee's communications, would have rendered necessary the evacuation of Richmond, and that, therefore, the fall of the latter place had been prevented; and, by my subsequent operations, Grant's operations against Lee's army had been materially impeded, and for some time substantially suspended.

My loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners, at Winchester and Fisher's Hill, had been less than 4,000, and, at Cedar Creek, about 3,000, but the enemy has attempted to magnify it to a much larger figure, claiming as prisoners several thousand more than my entire loss. How he makes out his estimate is not for me to explain. He was never scrupulous as to the kinds of persons of whom he made prisoners, and the statements of the Federal officers were not always confined to the truth, as the world has probably learned. I know that a number of prisoners fell into the enemy's hands, who did not belong to my command: such as cavalry men on details to get fresh horses, soldiers on leave of absence, conscripts on special details, citizens not in the service, men employed in getting supplies for the departments, and stragglers and deserters from other commands.

My army during the entire campaign had been self sustaining, so far as provisions and forage were concerned, and a considerable number of beef cattle had been sent to General Lee's army; and when the difficulties under which I laboured are considered, I think I may confidently assert that I had done as well as it was possible for me to do.[2]

Shortly after Rosser's return from the New Creek expedition, Colonel Munford was sent with Wickham's brigade to the counties of Hardy and Pendleton, to procure forage for his horses, and, cold weather having now set in so as to prevent material operations in the field, the three divisions of the 2nd Corps were sent, in succession, to General Lee,—Wharton's division, the cavalry, and most of the artillery being retained with me.

On the 16th of December, I broke up the camp at New-Market, and moved back towards Staunton, for the purpose of establishing my troops on or near the Central railroad—Lomax's cavalry, except one brigade left to watch the Luray Valley, having previously moved across the Blue Ridge, so as to be able to procure forage. Cavalry pickets were left in front of New-Market, and telegraphic communications kept up with that place, from which there was communication with the lower Valley, by means of signal stations on the northern end of Massanutten Mountain, and at Ashby's Gap in the Blue Ridge, which overlooked the enemy's camps and the surrounding country.

The troops had barely arrived at their new camps, when information was received that the enemy's cavalry was in motion. On the 19th, Custer's division moved from Winchester towards Staunton, and, at the same time, two other divisions of cavalry, under Torbert or Merrit, moved across by Front Royal and Chester Gap towards Gordonsville. This information having been sent me by signal and telegraph, Wharton's division was moved, on the 20th, through a hail-storm, towards Harrisonburg, and Rosser ordered to the front with all the cavalry he could collect. Custer's division reached Lucy's Spring, nine miles north of Harrisonburg, on the evening of the 20th, and, next morning before day, Rosser, with about 600 men of his own and Payne's brigades, attacked it in camp, and drove it. back down the Valley in some confusion. Lomax had been advised of the movement towards Gordonsville, and. as soon as Custer was disposed of, Wharton's division was moved back, and on the 23 a portion of it was run on the railroad to Charlottesvilie—Munford, who had now returned from across the great North Mountain, being ordered to the same place. On my arrival at Charlottesville on the 23rd, I found that the enemy's two divisions of cavalry, which had crossed the Blue Ridge had been held in check near Gordonsville by Lomax, until the arrival of a brigade of infantry from Richmond, when they retired precipitately. I returned to the Valley and established my headquarters at Staunton—Wharton's division and the artillery being encamped east of that place, and Rosser's cavalry west, of it; and thus closed the operations, of 1864 with me.[3]


  1. From Grant's account of the battle of Cedar Creek, it would be supposed that the 6th Corps was returned to the army of the Potomac immediately after that battle, but the truth is that no troops were went from Sheridan's army until in December, when the cold weather had put an end to all operations in the field by infantry.
  2. Some attempts have been made to compare my campaign in the Valley with that of General Jackson in the same district, in order to cast censure on me; but such comparison is not necessary for the vindication of the fame of that great leader, and it is most unjust to me, as the circumstances under which we operated were so entirely dissimilar. It was my fortune to serve under General Jackson, after his Valley campaign until his death, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I enjoyed his confidence, which was signally shown in his last official act towards me; and no one admires his character and reveres his memory more than I do. It is not therefore with any view to detract from his merits, that I mention the following facts, but to show how improper it is to compare our campaigns, with a view of contrasting their merits. 1st. General Jackson did not have the odds opposed to him which I had, and his troops were composed entirely of the very best material which entered into the composition of our armies, that is, the men who came out voluntarily in the beginning of the war; while my command, though comprising all the principal organizations which were with him did not contain 1,500 of the men who had participated in the first Valley campaign, and there was a like falling off in the other organizations with me, which had not been with Gen. Jackson in that campaign. This was owing to the losses in killed and disabled, and prisoners who were not exchanged. Besides the old soldiers whose numbers were so reduced, my command was composed of recruits and conscripts. 2nd. General Jackson's cavalry was not outnumbered by the enemy, and it was far superior in efficiency—Ashby being a host in himself; while my cavalry was more than trebled in numbers, and far excelled in arms, equipments, and horses, by that of the enemy. 3rd. The Valley, at the time of his campaign, was teeming with provisions and forage from one end to the other; while my Command had very great difficulty in obtaining provisions for the men, and had to rely almost entirely on the grass in the open fields for forage. 4th. When General Jackson was pressed and had to retire, as well when he fell back before Banks in the spring of 1802, as, later, when he retired before Fremont to prevent Shields from getting in his rear, the condition of the water courses was such as to enable him to stop the advance of one column, by burning the bridges, and then fall upon and defeat another column; and, when hard pressed, place his troops in a position of security, until a favorable opportunity offered for attacking the enemy: while all the water courses were low and fordable, and the whole country was open in my front, on my flanks, and in my rear, during my entire campaign. These facts do not detract from the merits of General Jackson's campaign in the slightest degree, and far be it from me to attempt to obscure his well earned and richly deserved fame. They only show that I ought not to be condemned for not doing what he did.
  3. At the close of the year 1864, Grant's plans for the campaign in Virginia had been baffled and he had merely attained a position on James River, which he might have occupied at the beginning of the campaign without opposition.So far as the two armies,with which the campaign was opened, were concerned he had sustained a defeat, and, if the contest had been between those two armies alone, his would have been destroyed. But unfortunately, he had no means of recruiting General Lee's. Four years of an unexampled struggle had destroyed the finances of the Confederate Government, and exhausted the material out of which an army could be raised. General Lee had performed his task as military commander, but the Government was unable to furnish him the means of properly continuing the war; and he had therefore to begin the campaign of 1865 with the remnant of his army of the previous year, while a new draft and heavy reinforcements from other quarters had furnished his opponent with a new army and largely increased numbers. The few detailed men sent to General Lee, after the revocation of their details, added nothing to the strength of his army, but were a positive injury to it. The mass of them desired to keep out of the service, because they had no stomach for the fight, and when forced into it, they but served to disseminate dissatisfaction. In the ranks of the army. Some writers who never exposed their own precious persons to the bullets of the enemy have written very glibly about the desertions from the army. Now, God forbid that I should say one word in justification of desertion under any circumstances. I had no tolerance for it during the war, and never failed to sanction and order the execution of sentence for the extreme penalty of that offence, when submitted to me; but some palliation was to be found for the conduct of many of those who did desert, in the fact that they did so to go to the aid of their families, who they knew were suffering for the necessaries of life, while many able-bodied young men remained at home, in peace and plenty, under exemptions and details. The duty to defend one's country exists independently of any law, and the latter is made to enforce, not create, the obligation. By the law, or the unwise administration of it, a man may be exempted from enforced service, but he cannot be released from the sacred duty of defending his country against invasion. Those able-bodied men who flocked abroad to avoid service, and were so blatant in their patriotism when beyond the reach of danger, as I have had occasion to learn in my wanderings, as well as those who sought exemptions and details under the law, with a view to avoid the dangers and hardships of the war, were to all intents and purposes deserters, and morally more criminal than the poor soldier, who, in the agony of his distress for the sufferings of his wife and little ones at home, yielded to the temptation to abandon his colours. There were some cases of exemptions and details, where the persons obtaining them could be more useful at home than in the field, and those who sought them honestly on that account are not subject to the above strictures, but there were many cases where the motives were very different. The men whose names form the roll of honor for the armies of the Confederate States, are-those who voluntarily entered the service in the beginning of the war, or as soon as they were able to bear arms, and served faithfully to the end, or until killed or disabled; and I would advise the unmarried among my fair countrywomen to choose their husbands from among the survivors of this class, and not from among the skulkers. By following this advice, they may not obtain as much pelf, but they may rest assured that they will not be the mothers of cowards, and their posterity will have no cause to blush for the conduct of their progenitors.