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1864 October 22: The Battle of Tom’s Brook

October 23, 2014

The following article about the Battle of Tom’s Brook appeared in the October 22, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  The Battle was fought on October 9, 1864, during Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

Sheridan’s Cavalry Victory.

The Herald’s correspondent with Sheridan [Philip H. Sheridan], dating October 9th, after stating that Sheridan,—having driven Early [Jubal A. Early] out of the valley, destroyed all the grain, forage and rendered the surrounding country untenable for another rebel army, determined to return and take a position nearer his base of supplies.  Where he was, at Harrisonburg, his subsistence had to be hauled in wagons almost 100 miles.

On retiring he was not followed by any considerable numbers of rebels until the 8th, when a large force of cavalry, under Rosser,¹ made their appearance and attacked a portion of our cavalry.  They were handsomely repulsed but bivouacked for the night.  The next morning, Sheridan having halted the principal portion of his command in the vicinity of Fisher’s Hill, instructed Gen. Torbert [Alfred T. A. Torbert] to attack the enemy and drive him away from such close proximity to our rear.

Torbert at once carried out the order.  Custar’s [sic: George A. Custer] and Merritt’s [Wesley Merritt] divisions made a vigorous assault on the enemy at an early hour on the morning of the 9th, on the right.  Merritt’s division occupied a position on the Winchester [turn]pike, about midway between Strasburg and Woodstock, and on the left Custar’s [sic] division occupied a position near Tom’s Creek, on the back road, about two miles closer to the mountains.

Custar [sic] advanced first with his cavalry and horse artillery.  He made a bold attack, and drove the enemy back about a mile, to a strong position on a brook.  There the enemy made a determined stand.  The rebels were advantageously posted on a commanding hill.  Barricades and breastworks of rails and stones contributed considerably to strengthen the position, which was naturally formidable.  General Custar [sic], however, threw in his whole command and made three magnificent charges, and at last carried the position by assault.  At the same time a junction was formed with Gen. Merritt on the turnpike.  Sharp skirmishing in the front did not seem to indicate anything decisive, till Devens’ [sic: Devin’s, Thomas C. Devin] brigade succeeded la striking the enemy on the flank.–This produced consternation in the rebel ranks in Merrill’s front.  The whole of Devin’s line then pushed forward and followed the enemy, who was now in full retreat.

The retreat was soon turned into a perfect rout.  Custar [sic] and Merritt pursued the flying fugitives, capturing guns, caissons, wagons, a herd of cattle and several hundred prisoners.  The enemy were driven in great disorder through Woodstock, Edenburg and Mount Jackson, a distance of more than 26 miles.  The rebel Gen. Lomax² had a very narrow escape from capture.

1.  Thomas Lafayette Rosser (1836-1910), known as “Tex,” attended West Point but left when Texas seceded in April of 1861. Despite being on opposite sides, he and his West Point room mate, George A. Custer, remained good friends. Rosser commanded the 2nd Company of New Orleans’ “Washington Artillery” at the First Battle of Bull Run, where he shot down one of General George B. McClellan’s observation balloons. As a captain, he commanded his battery during the Seven Days Battles, and was severely wounded at Mechanicsville. He was then promoted to colonel of the 5th Virginia Cavalry and commanded the advance of J.E.B. Stuart’s expedition to Catlett’s Station. At the Second Battle of Bull Run he captured General John Pope’s orderly and horses. Rosser also fought at the battles of South Mountain, Antietam, Kelly’s Ford, where he was badly wounded, and Gettysburg. He was promoted to brigadier general and fought at the Battle of the Wilderness, Trevilian Station, where he was wounded again, in the Shenandoah Valley, at Cedar Creek and Tom’s Brook. For no tactical reason, Custer chased Rosser’s troops for over 10 miles and the action became known as the “Woodstock Races” in Union accounts. Rosser became known in the Southern press as the “Saviour of the Valley,” and was promoted to major general in November 1864. Rosser commanded a cavalry division during the Siege of Petersburg in the spring of 1865. Rosser was conspicuous during the Appomattox Campaign, capturing a Union general and rescuing a wagon train near Farmville. He led a daring early morning charge at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, and escaped with his command as Lee surrendered the bulk of the Army of Northern Virginia. After the War, he became chief engineer of the eastern division of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and later was chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific. On June 10, 1898, President William McKinley appointed Rosser a brigadier general of United States Volunteers during the Spanish-American War.
2.  Lunsford Lindsay Lomax (1835-1913) graduated from West Point in 1856, remaining good friends with classmate Fitzhugh Lee. He was assigned to the prestigious 2nd Cavalry regiment and served in Bleeding Kansas. Resigning from the army in April 1861, he became a captain in the Virginia state militia and was assigned to Joseph E. Johnston’s staff. He was appointed colonel of the 11th Virginia Cavalry in time for the Gettysburg campaign, and was promoted to brigadier general aftermath the battle. Lomax fought under Fitzhugh Lee from Culpeper Courthouse through the Battle of the Wilderness and around Petersburg. He was promoted to major general in August 1864 and was assigned to Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley. In command of the Valley District, he supervised the intelligence-gathering operations of Mosby’s Rangers. When Richmond was evacuated in 1865, Lomax tried to join forces with John Echols’s men at Lynchburg, Virginia, but unable to do so he surrendered with Joe Johnston in North Carolina.

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