1864 October 29: The Battle of Cedar Creek
The following article on the Shenandoah Valley battle at Cedar Creek comes from the October 29, 1864, issue of The Polk County Press.
Another Glorious Victory in the Shenandoah.
The gallant Sheridan [Philip H. Sheridan] has won another signal victory over the rebels under Longstreet [James Longstreet]. The attack was made by the enemy at midnight, heavy columns of men having been massed behind the hills on the opposite side of Cedar Creek, near which the battle was fought. Our pickets were driven in or captured by the impetuous and sudden onset of the rebels, and the slumbering camps of our soldiers completely surprised.—Many prisoners were taken by the enemy and about 20 pieces of artillery. Gen. Sheridan was at Winchester, on his way back from Washington, heard the cannonading, and hurried to the field of battle. He comprehended, at a glance, the true state of affairs, and with that rare quality which he posesses [sic], of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, he immediately re[c]ognized his forces, and changed the aspect of affairs, and turned the tide of battle so rapidly tending toward a disastrous defeat into a glorious victory.
Sheridan, in his report, states that he has captured over 1,600 prisoners and 50 cannon besides wagons and ambulances in great numbers and and [sic] that his cavalry are in hot pursuit of the flying rebels.
Three rebel generals are wounded: Ramsur [sic: Dodson Ramseur], Lomax [Lunsford L. Lomax] and Campell [sic].¹ Gen. Ramsur who commanded a division in the rebel army, was taken prisoner, and has since died. Prisoners captured say that Longstreet lost three-fourths of his artillery.
From the Herald‘s, World‘s and Tribune‘s correspondents in Sheridan’s army, we glean the following particulars of the battle and its results :
The Herald‘s Martinsburg correspondent of the 22d, says information from the front indicate that our losses in the battle of the 19th inst. will reach 5,000 in killed, wounded and missing. We also lost early in the morning twenty-four guns. We have captured including the wounded, who are in our hands, about 7,000 men and fifty guns. The total loss of the enemy cannot therefore be much short of 10,000 men.
Gen. Custar [sic: George A. Custer] alone has receipts for forty-five guns and five battle flags, besides a large number of ambulances, horses, harnesses, mules, &c.
This makes fifty-one pieces of artillery that his division has captured during the last two weeks.
The Tribune correspondent has the following concerning our captures at Cedar Creek and the pursuit of the enemy ; Devine [Thomas C. Devin] with his little brigade, kept sweeping down upon their rear, gobbling up the officers and men by scores. He pressed them so hard it was impossible to get their artillery out of his way, and their wagon and ambulance drivers and cannoniers dismounted and run off into the woods on either side of the road, and the guard of the demoralized rebel army, if it had one, followed suit, leaving the whole train in our hands. Limbers, caisons, wagons and ambulances were all huddled together in the greatest confusion.
The World’s correspondent in speaking of the termination of the battle says :
Custar [sic] and Merritt [Wesley Merritt] charged in on the right and left, doubled up the flanks of the foe, taking prisoners, and slashing, killing and driving them as they went.
The march of the infantry was more majestic and more terrible.—The line of the foe swayed and broke before it everywhere beyond Middletown on the battle-field fought over in the morning.
Their columns were completely overthrown and discouraged and fled along the pike and over the field like sheep. Custar [sic] took a gun in one of his charges captured from us in the morning, the first gun had had captured. Many more guns were to be ours before night fell.
It was dusk when the whole rebel army, forsaking every inch of ground they had won, went across Cedar River pell mell and went flying on towards Strasburg.
Two brigades of cavalry, Wells’ and Lowell’s,³ pursued, charging at every chance and increasing the rout before them. At nightfall our cavalry entered Strasburgh [sic] while the enemy was still passing through the town, and from that time until dark they confined themselves, with a division of infantry afterwards sent forward by Gen. Sheridan, to picking up prisoners and gathering together and sending to the rear the artillery, army wagons and ambulances which had been left by the foe in their headlong flight.
Forty-three guns, including nearly all of those taken from us during the day, have already been counted, and it was said the number would reach fifty.
The medical supplies captured from the 19th corps were restored ; also several of our ambulances and wagons, and a hundred or more belonging to the enemy. The prisoners taken will number nearly 2,000. It has been about impossible to provide guards for them as rapidly as they are captured. A large number sent to the rear would probably escape during the night, but all are so completely tired out with the day’s fighting and marching that we shall pick up hundreds by the wayside when the morning dawns.
The following is the principal part of Gen. Devin’s captures ; 22 pieces of artillery, including a section of 32-pounders, 36 army wagons, 30 ambulances, 147 horses, 2-stand of colors and a guidon, 352 prisoners and a large number of small arms.
The Commercial’s Washington despatch gives the following official summary of the recent great victory :
Three thousand six hundred prisoners have already been captured.
Our cavalry is engaged in picking up rebel deserters and stragglers who are glad to escape. The whole loss of the rebels will reach 10,000 in killed, wounded and prisoners.
Among the guns captured were 20 new brass pieces which were recently turned out from Richmond and with which Early [Jubal A. Early] had been supplied only a few days previous to the last battle. Some 2,000 stand of small arms were picked up on the field and along the track of the flying enemy. The rebels had five infantry brigades and five cavalry brigades in the engagement. Our wounded are being rapidly removed, and Sheridan will soon be engaged in another advance up the Valley.
The Herald’s correspondent of the 15th gives the following list of guns, &c., captured on the 10th : 1200 prisoners of the rank and file, sixty-four commissioned officers, forty-eight pieces of artillery, forty cassions [sic], three battery wagons, 008 [800?] horses and mules with harnesses complete, 65 ambulances, 50 army wagons, 15,000 rounds artillery ammunition, 1,580 stand small arms, several wagon loads including all the medical stores of the enemy, a large quantity of small ammunition and a large number of flags. Our total loss including prisoners is reported at 4,086. Only a small portion of the escaping rebels saved their arms, and out of Early’s formidable batteries but one piece is left him.
1. “Battle of Cedar Creek.” This digital image is from an original 1890 Kurz & Allison print, available at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. The UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center has in its Special Collections a copy of Battles of the Civil War: The Complete Kurz & Allison Prints, 1861-1865, Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1976 (Oversized E 468.7 .B3 1976), which includes a copy of this print.
2. Alexander William Campbell (1828-1893) was severely wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. After convalescing he served in several non-combat positions, and while recruiting new soldiers in western Tennessee, Campbell was taken prisoner in July 1863. He was not exchanged until February 1865, so was not at the Battle of Cedar Creek.
3. William W. Wells (1837-1892) was promoted to colonel on June 4, 1864. He commanded Custer’s 2nd Brigade at Cedar Creek and his brigade took a leading part in turning the rout of the morning into a decisive victory at nightfall, capturing 45 of the 48 pieces of artillery taken from Jubal Early’s fleeing army. Congress eventually honored him with a Medal of Honor for gallantry at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Charles Russell Lowell (1835-1864) was mortally wounded during the Union counterattack at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19 and died a day later.