Battle of Cedar Run
Jackson’s Own Division (commanded by Winder)
1 Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 281.
Jackson was by no means displeased when he learned who was in command of the Federal advance. “Banks is in front of me,” he said to Dr. McGuire, “he is always ready to fight;” and then, laughing, he added as if to himself, “and he generally gets whipped.”
The Confederate regiments, as a rule, were very weak. The losses of the Seven Days, of Winchester, of Cross Keys, and of Port Republic had not yet been replaced. Companies had dwindled down to sections. Brigades were no stronger than full battalions, and the colonel was happy who could muster 200 muskets. But the waste of the campaign was not altogether an evil. The weak and sickly had been weeded out. The faint-hearted had disappeared, and if many of the bravest had fallen before Richmond, those who remained were hardy and experienced soldiers. The army that lay round Gordonsville was the best that Jackson had yet commanded. The horses, which had become almost useless in the Peninsula, had soon regained condition on the rich pastures at the foot of the South-west Mountains. Nearly every man had seen service. The officers were no longer novices. The troops had implicit confidence in their leaders, and their moral was high. They had not yet tasted defeat. Whenever they had met the enemy he had abandoned the field of battle. With such troops much might be risked, and if the staff was not yet thoroughly trained, the district in which they were now operating was far less intricate than the Peninsula. As the troops marched westward from Richmond, with their faces towards their own mountains, the country grew more open, the horizon larger, and the breezes purer. The dark forests disappeared. The clear streams, running swiftly over rocky beds, were a welcome change from the swamps of the Chickahominy. North of Gordonsville the spurs of the Blue Ridge, breaking up into long chains of isolated hills, towered high above the sunlit plains. The rude tracks of the Peninsula, winding through the woods, gave place to broad and well-trodden highways. Nor did the marches now depend upon the guidance of some casual rustic or terrified negro. There were many in
the Confederate ranks who were familiar with the country; and the quick pencil of Captain Hotchkiss, Jackson’s trusted engineer, who had rejoined from the Valley, was once more at his disposal. Information, moreover, was not hard to come by. The country was far more thickly populated than the region about Richmond, and, notwithstanding Pope’s harsh measures, he was unable to prevent the people communicating with their own army. If the men had been unwilling to take the risk, the women were quite ready to emulate the heroines of the Valley, and the conduct of the Federal marauders had served only to inflame their patriotism. Under such circumstances Jackson’s task was relieved of half its difficulties. He was almost as much at home as on the Shenandoah, and although there were no Massanuttons to screen his movements, the hills to the north, insignificant as they might be when compared with the great mountains which divide the Valley, might still be turned to useful purpose.
August 7 On August 7, starting late in the afternoon, the Confederates marched eight miles by a country track, and halted at Orange Court House. Culpeper was still twenty miles distant, and two rivers, the Rapidan and Robertson, barred the road. The Robertson was held by 5,000 or 6,000 Federal cavalry; five regiments, under General Buford, were near Madison Court House; four, under General Bayard, near Rapidan Station. East of the railway two more regiments held Raccoon Ford; others watched the Rappahannock as far as Fredericksburg, and on Thoroughfare Mountain, ten miles south-west of Culpeper, and commanding a view of the surrounding country as far as Orange Court House, was a signal station.
August 8 Early on the 8th, Ewell’s division crossed the Rapidan at Liberty Mills, while the other divisions were ordered to make the passage at Barnett’s Ford, six miles below. A forced march should have carried the Confederates to within striking distance of Culpeper, and a forced march was almost imperative. The cavalry had been in contact; the advance must already have been reported to Pope, and within twenty-four hours
the whole of the Federal army, with the exception of the division at Fredericksburg, might easily be concentrated in a strong position.
Still there were no grounds for uneasiness. If the troops made sixteen miles before nightfall, they would be before Culpeper soon after dawn, and sixteen miles was no extraordinary march for the Valley regiments. But to accomplish a long march in the face of the enemy, something is demanded more than goodwill and endurance on the part of the men. If the staff arrangements are faulty, or the subordinate commanders careless, the best troops in the world will turn sluggards. It was so on August 8. Jackson’s soldiers never did a worse day’s work during the whole course of his campaigns. Even his energy was powerless to push them forward. The heat, indeed, was excessive. Several men dropped dead in the ranks; the long columns dragged wearily through the dust, and the Federal cavalry was not easily pushed back. Guns and infantry had to be brought up before Bayard’s dismounted squadrons were dislodged. But the real cause of delay is to be found elsewhere. Not only did General Hill misunderstand his orders, but, apparently offended by Jackson’s reticence, he showed but little zeal. The orders were certainly incomplete. Nothing had been said about the supply trains, and they were permitted to follow their divisions, instead of moving in rear of the whole force. Ewell’s route, moreover, was changed without Hill being informed. The lines of march crossed each other, and Hill was delayed for many hours by a long column of ambulances and waggons. So tedious was the march that when the troops halted for the night, Ewell had made eight miles, Hill only two, and the latter was still eighteen miles from Culpeper. Chagrined by the delay, Jackson reported to Lee that “he had made but little progress, and that the expedition,” he feared, “in consequence of his tardy movements, would be productive of little good.”
How the blame should be apportioned it is difficult to say. Jackson laid it upon Hill. And that officer’s conduct
was undoubtedly reprehensible. The absence of Major Dabney, struck down by sickness, is a possible explanation of the faulty orders. But that Jackson would have done better to have accepted Lee’s hint, to have confided his intentions to his divisional commanders, and to have trusted something to their discretion, seems more than clear. In war, silence is not invariably a wise policy. It was not a case in which secrecy was all-important. The movement had already been discovered by the Federal cavalry, and in such circumstances the more officers that understood the intention of the general-in-chief the better. Men who have been honoured with their leader’s confidence, and who grasp the purpose of the efforts they are called upon to make, will co-operate, if not more cordially, at least more intelligently, than those who are impelled by the sense of duty alone.
As it was, so much time had been wasted that Jackson would have been fully warranted in suspending the movement, and halting on the Rapidan. The Federals were aware he was advancing. Their divisions were not so far apart that they could not be concentrated within a few hours at Culpeper, and, in approaching so close, he was entering the region of uncertainty. Time was too pressing to admit of waiting for the reports of spies. The enemy’s cavalry was far more numerous than his own, and screened the troops in rear from observation. The information brought in by the country people was not to be implicitly relied on; their estimate of numbers was always vague, and it would be exceedingly difficult to make sure that the force at Culpeper had not been strongly reinforced. It was quite on the cards that the whole of Pope’s army might reach that point in the course of the next day, and in that case the Confederates would be compelled to retreat, followed by a superior army, across two bridgeless rivers.
Nevertheless, the consideration of these contingencies had no effect on Jackson’s purpose. The odds, he decided, were in his favour; and the defeat of Pope’s army in detail, with all the consequences that might follow, was worth risking much to bring about. It was still possible
that Pope might delay his concentration; it was still possible that an opportunity might present itself; and, as he had done at Winchester in March, when threatened by a force sevenfold stronger than his own, he resolved to look for that opportunity before he renounced his enterprise.
August 9 In speed and caution lay the only chance of success. The start on the 9th was early. Hill, anxious to redeem his shortcomings, marched long before daylight, and soon caught up with Ewell and Winder. Half of the cavalry covered the advance; the remainder, screening the left flank, scouted west and in the direction of Madison Court House. Two brigades of infantry, Gregg’s and Lawton’s, were left in rear to guard the trains, for the Federal horsemen threatened danger, and the army, disembarrassed of the supply waggons, pressed forward across the Rapidan. Pushing the Federal cavalry before them, the troops reached Robertson River. The enemy’s squadrons, already worn out by incessant reconnaissance and picket duty, were unable to dispute the passage, and forming a single column, the three divisions crossed the Locustdale Ford. Climbing the northern bank, the high-road to Culpeper, white with dust, lay before them, and to their right front, little more than two miles distant, a long wooded ridge, bearing the ominous name of Slaughter Mountain, rose boldly from the plain.
Ewell’s division led the march, and shortly before noon, as the troops swept past the western base of Slaughter Mountain, it was reported that the Federal cavalry, massed in some strength, had come to a halt a mile or two north, on the bank of a small stream called Cedar Run.
The Confederate guns opened, and the hostile cavalry fell back; but from a distant undulation a Federal battery came into action, and the squadrons, supported by this fire, returned to their old position. Although Cedar Run was distant seven miles from Culpeper, it was evident, from the attitude of the cavalry, that the enemy was inclined to make a stand, and that in all probability Banks’ army corps was in support.1 Early’s brigade, forming the advanced
1 This was the case. Banks had reached Culpeper on the 8th. On the same day his advanced brigade was sent forward to Cedar Run, and was followed by the rest of the army corps on the 9th.
guard which had halted in a wood by the roadside, was now ordered forward. Deploying to the right of the highway, it drove in the enemy’s vedettes, and came out on the open ground which overlooks the stream. Across the shallow valley, covered with the high stalks and broad leaves of Indian corn, rose a loftier ridge, twelve hundred yards distant, and from more than one point batteries opened on the Confederate scouts. The regiments of the advanced guard were immediately withdrawn to the reverse slope of the ridge, and Jackson galloped forward to the mound of the guns. His dispositions had been quickly made. A large force of artillery was ordered to come into action on either flank of the advanced guard. Ewell’s division was ordered to the right, taking post on the northern face of Slaughter Mountain; Winder was ordered to the left, and Hill, as soon as he came up, was to form the reserve, in rear of Winder. These movements took time. The Confederate column, 20,000 infantry and fifteen batteries, must have occupied more than seven miles of road; it would consequently take over two hours for the whole force to deploy for battle.
2.45 p.m. Before three o’clock, however, the first line was formed. On the right of the advanced guard, near a clump of cedars, were eight guns, and on Slaughter Mountain eight more. Along the high-road to the left six guns of Winder’s division were soon afterwards deployed, reinforced by four of Hill’s. These twenty-six pieces, nearly the whole of the long-range ordnance which the Confederates possessed, were turned on the opposing batteries, and for nearly two hours the artillery thundered across the valley. The infantry, meanwhile, awaiting Hill’s arrival, had come into line. Ewell’s brigades, Trimble’s, and the Louisianians (commanded by Colonel Forno) had halted in the woods on the extreme right, at the base of the mountain, threatening the enemy’s flank. Winder had come up on the left, and had posted the Stonewall Brigade in rear of his guns; Campbell’s
brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel Garnett, was stationed in front, west, and Taliaferro’s brigade east, of the road. The 10,000 men of the Light Division, however, were still some distance to the rear, and the position was hardly secure against a counterstroke. The left of the line extended along a skirt of woodland, which ran at right angles to the road, overlooking a wheat-field but lately reaped, on the further side of which, and three hundred yards distant, was dense wood. This point was the most vulnerable, for there was no support at hand, and a great tract of forest stretched away westward, where cavalry was useless, but through which it was quite possible that infantry might force its way. Jackson ordered Colonel Garnett, commanding the brigade on this flank, “to look well to his left, and to ask his divisional commander for reinforcements.” The brigadier sent a staff officer and an orderly to reconnoitre the forest to the left, and two officers were dispatched to secure the much-needed support.
But at this juncture General Winder was mortally wounded by a shell; there was some delay in issuing orders, and before the weak place in the line could be strengthened the storm broke. The enemy’s batteries, five in number, although the concentrated fire of the Confederates had compelled them to change position, had not yet been silenced. No large force of Federal infantry had as yet appeared; skirmishers only had pushed forward through the corn; but the presence of so many guns was a clear indication that a strong force was not far off, and Jackson had no intention of attacking a position which had not yet been reconnoitred until his rear division had closed up, and the hostile artillery had lost its sting.
5 p.m. About five o’clock, however, General Banks, although his whole force, including Bayard’s cavalry, did not exceed 9,000 officers and men,1 and Ricketts’ division, in support, was four miles distant, gave orders for a general attack.2 Two brigades, crossing the rise which formed the Federal position,
1 3,500 of Banks’ army corps had been left at Winchester, and
his sick were numerous.
2 Banks had received an order from Pope which might certainly be understood to mean that he should take the offensive if the enemy approached.—Report of Committee of Congress, vol. iii, p. 45.
bore down on the Confederate centre, and strove to cross the stream. Early was hard pressed, but, Taliaferro’s brigade advancing on his left, he held his own; and on the highroad, raked by a Confederate gun, the enemy was unable to push forward. But within the wood to the left, at the very point where Jackson had advised precaution, the line of defence was broken through. On the edge of the timber commanding the wheatfield only two Confederate regiments were posted, some 500 men all told, and the 1st Virginia, on the extreme left, was completely isolated. The Stonewall Brigade, which should have been placed in second line behind them, had not yet received its orders; it was more than a half-mile distant, in rear of Winder’s artillery, and hidden from the first line by the trees and undergrowth. Beyond the wheat-field 1,500 Federals, covered by a line of skirmishers, had formed up in the wood. Emerging from the covert with fixed bayonets and colours flying, their long line, overlapping the Confederate left, moved steadily across the three hundred yards of open ground. The shocks of corn, and some ragged patches of scrub timber, gave cover to the skirmishers, but in the closed ranks behind the accurate fire of the Southern riflemen made fearful ravages. Still the enemy pressed forward; the skirmishers darted from bush to bush; the regiments on the right swung round, enveloping the Confederate line; and the 1st Virginia, despite the entreaties of its officers, broke and scattered.1 Assailed in front from the field and in flank from the forest, the men would stand no longer, and flying back through the woodland, left the way open to the very rear of the position. The 42nd Virginia, outflanked in turn, was compelled to give ground; and the Federals, without waiting to reform, swept rapidly through the wood, and bore down upon the flank of Taliaferro’s brigade and Winder’s batteries.
And now occurred a scene of terrible confusion. So swift was the onslaught that the first warning received by the Confederates on the highroad was a sudden storm
1 O.R., vol. xii, part ii, p. 201.
of musketry, the loud cheers of the enemy, and the rush of fugitives from the forest. Attacked simultaneously in front, flank and rear, with the guns and limbers entangled among the infantry, Winder’s division was subjected to an ordeal of which it was without experience. The batteries, by Jackson’s order, were at once withdrawn, and not a gun was lost. The infantry, however, did not escape so lightly. The Federals, emboldened by the flight of the artillery, charged forward with reckless courage. Every regimental commander in Garnett’s brigade was either killed or wounded. Taliaferro’s brigade was driven back, and Early’s left was broken. Some regiments attempted to change front, others retreated in disorder. Scattered groups, plying butt and bayonet, endeavoured to stay the rout. Officers rushed into the mêlée, and called upon those at hand to follow. Men were captured and recaptured, and, for a few moments, the blue and grey were mingled in close conflict amid the smoke. But the isolated efforts of the Confederates were of no avail. The first line was irretrievably broken; the troops were mingled in a tumultuous mass, through which the shells tore shrieking; the enemy’s bayonets were surging forward on every side, and his well-served batteries, firing over the heads of their own infantry, played heavily on the road. But fortunately for the Virginians the Federal right wing was unsupported; and although the Light Division was still at some distance from the field, the Stonewall Brigade was already advancing. Breaking through the rout to the left of the highroad, these five staunch regiments, undismayed by the disaster, opened a heavy fire. The Federals, although still superior in numbers at the decisive point, had lost all order in their successful charge; to meet this fresh onset they halted and drew together, and then Jackson, with wonderful energy, restored the battle.
Sending orders for Ewell and A. P. Hill to attack at once, he galloped forward, unattended by either staff officer or orderly, and found himself in the midst of his own men, his soldiers of the Valley, no longer presenting the stubborn front of Bull Run or Kernstown, but an ungovernable mob, breaking rapidly to the rear, and on the very
verge of panic. Drawing his sword, for the first time in the war, his voice pealed high above the din; the troops caught the familiar accents, instinct with resolution, and the presence of their own general acted like a spell. “Rally, men,” he shouted, “and follow me!” Taliaferro, riding up to him, emphatically insisted that the midst of the mêlée was no place for the leader of an army. He looked a little surprised, but with his invariable ejaculation of “Good, good,” turned slowly to the rear. The impulse, however, had already been given to the Confederate troops. With a wild yell the remnant of the 21st Virginia rushed forward to the front, and received the pursuers with a sudden volley. The officers of other regiments, inspired by the example of their commander, bore the colours forward, and the men, catching the enthusiasm of the moment, followed in the path of the 21st. The Federals recoiled. Taliaferro and Early, reforming their brigades, again advanced upon the right; and Jackson, his front once more established, turned his attention to the counterstroke he had already initiated.
Ewell was ordered to attack the Federal left. Branch, leading the Light Division, was sent forward to support the Stonewall Brigade, and Lane to charge down the highroad. Thomas was to give aid to Early. Archer and Pender, following Branch, were to outflank the enemy’s right, and Field and Stafford were to follow as third line.
Ewell was unable to advance at once, for the Confederate batteries on Slaughter Mountain swept the whole field, and it was some time before they could be induced to cease fire. But on the left the mass of fresh troops, directed on the critical point, exerted a decisive influence. The Federal regiments, broken and exhausted, were driven back into the wood and across the wheat-field by the charge of the Stonewall Brigade. Still they were not yet done with. Before Hill’s troops could come into action, Jackson’s old regiments, as they advanced into the open, were attacked in front and threatened on the flank. The 4th and 27th Virginia were immediately thrown back to meet the more pressing danger, forming to the left within
the wood; but assailed in the confusion of rapid movement, they gave way and scattered through the thickets. But the rift in the line was rapidly closed up. Jackson, riding in front of the Light Division, and urging the men to hold their fire and use their bayonets, rallied the 27th and led them to the front; while Branch’s regiments, opening their ranks for the fugitives to pass through, and pressing forward with unbroken line, drove back the Northern skirmishers, and moving into the wheatfield engaged their main body in the opposite wood.
Lane, meanwhile, was advancing astride the road; Archer and Pender, in accordance with Jackson’s orders, were sweeping round through the forest, and Field and Stafford were in rear of Branch. A fresh brigade had come up to sustain the defeated Federals; but gallantly as they fought, the Northerners could make no head against overwhelming numbers. Outflanked to both right and left, for Early and Ewell were now moving forward, they began to yield. Jackson rode forward to the wheat-field, and just at this moment Banks made a despairing effort to extricate his infantry. Two squadrons, hitherto concealed by the woods, appeared suddenly on the road, and, deploying into two lines, charged full against the Confederate centre. The skirmishers were ridden down; but the troops in rear stood firm, and several companies, running to a fence along the highway, poured a devastating fire into the mass of horsemen. Out of 174 officers and men only 71 rode back.1
6.30 p.m. This brilliant but useless exploit brought no respite to the Federals. Archer and Pender had turned their right; Ewell was pressing forward against their left, scaling the ridge on which their batteries had been posted; Early and Lane were pressing back their centre, and their guns had already limbered up. Jackson, galloping to the front, was received with the cheers of his victorious troops. In every quarter of the field the enemy was in full retreat, and as darkness began to fall the whole Confederate line crossed Cedar Run and swept up the
1 O.R., vol. xii, part ii, p. 141.
slopes beyond. Every yard of ground bore witness to the severity of the fighting. The slaughter had been very heavy. Within ninety minutes 3,000 men had fallen. The woods were a shambles, and among the corn the dead lay thick. Scores of prisoners surrendered themselves, and hundreds of discarded muskets bore witness to the demoralisation of the Northerners. Nevertheless, the pursuit was slow. The impetuosity of the Confederates, eager to complete their triumph, was checked with a firm hand. The infantry were ordered to reform before they entered the dense forest which lay between them and Culpeper. The guns, unable to cross Cedar Run except by the road, were brought over in a single column, and two fresh brigades, Field’s and Stafford’s, which had not yet fired a shot, were brought forward as advanced guard. Although Jackson had been careful to bring guides who knew the woodland tracks, there was need for prudence. The light was failing; the cavalry could find no space to act; and, above all, the whereabouts of Pope’s main body was still uncertain. The Federals had fought with fine courage. Their resolute attack, pressed home with extraordinary dash, had rolled up the choicest of the Valley regiments. And yet it was evident that only a small portion of the Northern army had been engaged. The stirring incidents of the battle had been crowded into a short space of time. It was five o’clock when the Federals left their covert. An hour and a half later they had abandoned the field. Their precipitate retreat, the absence of a strong rear-guard, were sure tokens that every regiment had been employed in the attack, and it was soon discovered by the Confederate soldiers that these regiments were old opponents of the Valley army. The men who had surprised and outflanked Jackson’s old division were the same men that had been surprised at Front Royal and outflanked at Winchester. But Banks’ army corps formed only a third part of Pope’s army. Sigel and McDowell were still to be accounted for.
It was possible, however, that no more formidable enemies than the troops already defeated would be found between Cedar Run and Culpeper, and Jackson, intent
upon securing that strategic point before morning,1 pushed steadily forward. Of the seven miles that intervened between the battle-field and the Court House only one-and-a-half had been passed, when the scouts brought information that the enemy was in position a few hundred yards to the front. A battery was immediately sent forward to develop the situation. The moon was full, and on the far side of the glade where the advanced guard, acting under Jackson’s orders, had halted and deployed, a strong line of fire marked the hostile front. Once more the woodland avenues reverberated to the crash of musketry, and when the guns opened a portion of the Federal line was seen flying in disorder. Pope himself had arrived upon the scene, but surprised by the sudden salvo of Jackson’s guns, he was constrained to do what he had never done in the West—to turn his back upon the enemy, and seek a safer position. Yet despite the disappearance of the staff the Union artillery made a vigorous reply. Two batteries, hidden by the timber, concentrated on the four guns of the advanced guard, and about the same moment the Confederate cavalry on the extreme right reported that they had captured prisoners belonging to Sigel’s army corps. “Believing it imprudent,” says Jackson, “to continue to move forward during the darkness, I ordered a halt for the night.”
August 10 Further information appears to have come to hand after midnight; and early the next morning General Stuart, who had arrived on a tour of inspection, having been placed in charge of the cavalry, ascertained beyond all question that the greater part of Pope’s army had come up. The Confederates were ordered to withdraw, and before noon nearly the whole force had regained their old position on Cedar Run. They were not followed, save by the Federal cavalry; and for two days they remained in position, ready to receive attack. The enemy, however, gave no sign of aggressive intentions.
August 11 On the morning of the 11th a flag of truce was received, and Pope was permitted to bury the dead which had not already been interred. The same
1 Report. O.R., vol. xii, part ii, p. 184.
night, his wounded, his prisoners, and the captured arms having already been removed, Jackson returned to his old camps near Gordonsville.
August 12 His position on Cedar Run, tactically strong, was strategically unsound. The intelligence he had obtained was substantially correct. With the exception of five regiments of McDowell’s cavalry, only Banks’ army corps had been engaged at Cedar Run. But during the evening both Sigel and McDowell had reached the field, and it was their troops which had checked the Confederate pursuit. In fact, on the morning of the 10th, Pope, besides 5,000 cavalry, had 22,000 fresh troops in addition to those which had been defeated, and which he estimated at 5,000 effectives, wherewith to bar the way to Culpeper. McDowell’s second division, 10,000 strong, on the march from Fredericksburg, was not more than twenty mites east of Slaughter Mountain.
In front, therefore, Jackson was confronted by superior numbers. At the least estimate, 32,000 men were posted beyond Cedar Run, and 10,000 under King were coming up from Fredericksburg. Nor was a preponderance of numbers the only obstacle with which Jackson had to deal. A direct attack on Pope was impossible, but a turning movement, by way of James City, might have found him unprepared, or a swift advance might have crushed King. But for the execution of either manœuvre a large force of cavalry was absolutely essential. By this means alone could the march be concealed and a surprise effected. In view, however, of the superior strength of the Federal horsemen such a project was unfeasible, and retreat was manifestly the only alternative. Nevertheless, it was not till he was assured that no further opportunity would be given him that Jackson evacuated his position. For two days he remained on Cedar Run, within two miles of the Federal outposts, defying his enemy to battle. If an attack on the Federals promised nothing but defeat, it was not so sure that Pope with 27,000 infantry, of whom a considerable number had just tasted defeat, would be able to oust Jackson with 22,000 from a position
which the latter had selected; and it was not till King’s approach gave the Federals an overwhelming superiority that the Confederates withdrew behind the Rapidan.
With sublime audacity, as soon as his enemy had disappeared, Pope claimed the battle of Cedar Run as a Federal success. Carried away by enthusiasm he ventured to forecast the future. “It is safe to predict,” he declared in a general order, “that this is only the first of a series of victories which shall make the Army of Virginia famous in the land.” That such language, however, was the natural result of intense relief at Jackson’s retreat may be inferred from his telegrams, which, unfortunately for his reputation, have been preserved in the archives of Washington. Nor was his attitude on the 10th and 11th that of a victorious commander. For two days he never stirred from his position. He informed Halleck that the enemy was in very superior force, that Stuart and Longstreet had joined Jackson, and while the Confederates were withdrawing he was telegraphing that he would certainly be attacked the next morning.
Halleck’s reply to Pope’s final dispatch, which congratulated the defeated army corps on a “hard-earned but brilliant success,” must have astonished Banks and his hapless troops. They might indeed be fairly considered to have “covered themselves with glory.”1 9,000 men, of which only 7,000 were infantry, had given an enemy of more than double their strength a hard fight. They had broken some of the best troops in the Confederate army, under their most famous leader; and if they had been overwhelmed by numbers, they had at least fought to the last man. Jackson himself bore witness to the vigour of their onslaught, to their “temporary triumph,” and to the “impetuous valour” of their cavalry. The Federal defeat was more honourable than many victories. But that it was a crushing defeat can hardly be disputed. The two divisions which had been engaged were completely shattered, and Pope reported that they were no longer fit for service. The casualties amongst the infantry amounted to a third
1 O.R., vol. xii, part ii, p. 135.
of the total strength. Of the brigade that had driven in the Confederate left the 28th New York lost the whole of its company officers; the 5th Connecticut 17 officers out of 20, and the 10th Maine had 170 killed or wounded. In two brigades nearly every field-officer and every adjutant was struck down. The 2nd Massachusetts, employed in the last effort to hold back Jackson’s counterstroke, lost 16 officers out of 28, and 147 men out of 451. The Ohio regiments, which had been with Shields at Kernstown and Port Republic, and had crossed Cedar Run opposite the Confederate centre, were handled even more roughly. The 5th lost 118 men out of 275, the 7th 10 officers out of 14, and 170 men out of 293. Two generals were wounded and one captured. 400 prisoners, three stand of colours, 5,000 rifles and one gun were taken by the Southerners, and, including those suffered by Sigel and McDowell in the night action, the sum of losses reached 2,380. The Confederates by no means came off scatheless. General Winder died upon the field; and the two brigades that stood the brunt of the attack, together with Early’s, suffered heavily. But the number of killed and wounded amounted to no more than 1,314, and many of the brigades had few losses to report. The spirit of the Valley troops was hardly to be tamed by such punishment as this. Nevertheless, Northern historians have not hesitated to rank Cedar Run as a battle unfavourable to the Confederates. Swinton declares that Jackson undertook the pursuit of Banks, “under the impression that he had gained a victory.“1 Southern writers, on the other hand, have classed Cedar Run amongst the most brilliant achievements of the war, and an unbiassed investigation goes far to support their view.
During the first week in August Jackson, protecting the Virginia Central Railroad, was confronted by a much superior force. He could expect no further reinforcements,
1 I may here express my regret that in the first edition I should have classed Mr. Ropes amongst the adverse critics of Jackson’s operations at this period. How I came to fall into the error I cannot explain. I should certainly have remembered that Mr. Ropes’ writings are distinguished as much by impartiality as by ability.
for McClellan was still near Richmond, and according to the latest information was actually advancing. On the 7th he heard that Pope also was moving forward from Hazel Run, and had pushed a portion of his army as far as Culpeper. In face of the overwhelming strength of the Federal cavalry it was impossible, if he occupied a defensive position, that he could protect the railroad; for while their infantry and artillery held him in front, their swarming squadrons would operate at their leisure on either flank. Nor could a defensive position have been long maintained. There were no natural obstacles, neither river nor mountains, to protect Jackson’s flanks; and the railroad—his line of supply—would have been parallel to his front. In a vigorous offensive, then, should opportunity offer, lay his best chance of success. That opportunity was offered by the unsupported advance of the Federal detachment under Banks. It is true that Jackson hoped to achieve more than the defeat of this comparatively small force. If he could have seized Culpeper he might have been able to deal with Pope’s army in detail; he saw before him another Valley campaign, and he was fully justified in believing that victory on the Rapidan would bring McClellan back to Washington.
His anticipations were not altogether realised. He crushed the detachment immediately opposed to him, but he failed to seize Culpeper, and McClellan had already been ordered, although this was unknown to the Confederates, to evacuate the Peninsula. But it cannot be fairly said that his enterprise was therefore useless. Strategically it was a fine conception. The audacity of his manœuvre was not the least of its merits. For an army of 24,000 men, weak in cavalry, to advance against an army of 47,000, including 5,000 horsemen, was the very height of daring. But it was the daring of profound calculation. As it was, Jackson ran little risk. He succeeded in his immediate object. He crushed Pope’s advanced guard, and he retreated unmolested, bearing with him the prisoners, the colours, and the arms which he had captured. If he did not succeed in occupying Culpeper, it was not his fault. Fortune was against
him. On the very day that he had moved forward Pope had done the same. Banks and McDowell were at Culpeper on the 8th, and Sigel received orders to move the same day.
Nevertheless the expedition was far from barren in result. If Jackson failed to defeat Pope altogether, he at least singed his beard. It was well worth the loss of 1,300 men to have destroyed two whole divisions under the very eyes of the general commanding a superior army. A few days later Pope was to feel the want of these gallant regiments,1 and the confidence of his troops in their commander was much shaken. Moreover, the blow was felt at Washington. There was no more talk of occupying Gordonsville. Pope was still full of ardour. But Halleck forbade him to advance further than the Rapidan, where Burnside would reinforce him; and McClellan was ordered to hasten the departure of his troops from the Peninsula.
Jackson’s tactics have been criticised as severely as his strategy. Because his first line was broken it is asserted that he narrowly escaped a serious defeat, and that had the two forces been equally matched Banks would have won a decisive victory. This is hardly sound criticism. In the first place, Jackson was perfectly well aware that the two forces were not equally matched. If he had had no more men than Banks, would he have disposed his forces as he did? He would scarcely have occupied the same extent of ground with 9,000 men that he did with 20,000. His actual front, when Banks attacked, was two miles long. With smaller numbers he would have occupied a smaller front, and would have retained a sufficient force in reserve. In the second place, it is generally possible for an inferior force, if it puts every man into the fighting-line, to win some measure of success. But such success, as was shown at Kernstown, can seldom be more than temporary; and if the enemy makes good use of his reserves must end in defeat.
1 So late as August 28, Pope reported that Banks’ troops were much demoralised. O.R., vol. xii, part iii, p. 653.
So far from Jackson’s tactics being indifferent, it is very easy to show that they were exactly the contrary. Immediately he came upon the field he sent Ewell to occupy Slaughter Mountain, a mile distant from his line of march; and the huge hill, with batteries planted on its commanding terraces, not only secured his flank, but formed a strong pivot for his attack on the Federal right. The preliminary operations were conducted with due deliberation. There was no rushing forward to the attack while the enemy’s strength was still uncertain. The ridge occupied by the enemy, so far as possible, was thoroughly reconnoitred, and every rifled gun was at once brought up. The artillery positions were well selected, for, notwithstanding their superiority of ordnance, the Federal batteries suffered far more heavily than the Confederates. The one weak point was the extreme left, and to this point Jackson in person directed the attention of his subordinates. “Had reinforcements,” says Colonel Garnett, who commanded the troops that first gave way, “momentarily expected, arrived ten minutes sooner no disaster would have happened.”1 That the point was not strengthened, that the Stonewall Brigade was not posted in second line behind the 1st Virginia, and that only a staff officer and an orderly were sent to patrol the forest to the westward, instead of several companies of infantry, was in no way due to the general-in-chief.
Nor was the position of A. P. Hill’s division, which, in conjunction with the Stonewall Brigade, averted the disaster and won the victory, a fortuitous circumstance. Before the attack began it had been directed to this point, and the strong counterstroke which was made by these fresh troops was exactly the manœuvre which the situation demanded. At the time it was ordered the Confederate left and centre were hard pressed. The Stonewall Brigade had checked the troops which had issued from the forest, but the whole Confederate line was shaken. The normal, though less brilliant, course would have been to have re-established the front, and not
1 O.R., vol. xii, part ii, p. 201.
till that had been done to have ventured on the counter-stroke. Jackson, with that quick intuition which is possessed by few, saw and seized his opportunity while the Federals were still pressing the attack. One of Hill’s brigades was sent to support the centre, and, almost in the same breath, six others, a mass of 7,000 or 8,000 men, were ordered to attack the enemy’s right, to outflank it, and to roll back his whole line upon Ewell, who was instructed at the same moment to outflank the left. Notwithstanding some delay in execution, Ewell’s inability to advance, and the charge of the Federal cavalry, this vigorous blow changed the whole aspect of the battle within a short half-hour. Conceived in a moment, in the midst of wild excitement and fierce tumult, delivered with all the strength available, it cannot be judged otherwise than as the mark of a great captain. Few battles, indeed, bear the impress of a single personality more clearly than Cedar Run. From the first cannon-shot of the advanced guard until the last volley in the midnight forest, one will directed every movement. The field was no small one. The fight was full of startling changes. It was no methodical conflict, but a fierce struggle at close quarters, the lines swaying to and fro, and the ground covered with confused masses of men and guns, with flying batteries and broken regiments. But the turmoil of battle found a master. The strong brain was never clearer than when the storm raged most fiercely. Wherever his presence was most needed there Jackson was seen, rallying the fugitives, reinforcing the centre, directing the counterstroke, and leading the pursuit. And he was well supported. His subordinate generals carried out their orders to the letter. But every order which bore upon the issue of the battle came from the lips of one man.
If Northern writers have overlooked the skill with which Jackson controlled the fight, they have at the same time misunderstood his action two days later. His retreat to Gordonsville has been represented as a flight. He is said to have abandoned many wounded and stragglers, and to have barely saved his baggage. In all this there is not one word
of truth. We have, indeed, the report of the Federal officer who conducted the pursuit. “The flight of the enemy after Saturday’s fight was most precipitate and in great confusion. His old camp was strewn with dead men, horses, and arms. . . . A good many (Federal) prisoners, wounded in Saturday’s fight, were found almost abandoned. Major Andrews, chief of artillery to General Jackson, was found, badly wounded, at Crooked Run, in charge of an assistant surgeon.” It is hardly necessary to say that General Buford, the officer thus reporting, had not been present at the battle. He had been out off with his four regiments by the advance of the Confederate cavalry, and had retired on Sperryville. He may accordingly be excused for imagining that a retreat which had been postponed for two days was precipitate. But dead men, dead horses, and old arms which the Confederates had probably exchanged for those which were captured, several wounded Federals, who had been prisoners in the enemy’s hands, and one wounded Confederate, a major of horse-artillery and not a staff officer at all, are hardly evidences of undue haste or great confusion. Moreover, in the list of Confederate casualties only thirty-one men were put down as missing.
It is true that Jackson need not have retreated so far as Gordonsville. He might have halted behind the Rapidan, where the bluffs on the south bank overlook the level country to the north. But Jackson’s manœuvres, whether in advance or retreat, were invariably actuated by some definite purpose, and what that purpose was he explains in his dispatches.1 “I remained in position until the night of the 11th, when I returned to the vicinity of Gordonsville, in order to avoid being attacked by the vastly superior force in front of me, and with the hope that by thus falling back, General Pope would be induced to follow me until I should be reinforced.” That Pope, had he been left to his own judgment, would have crossed the Rapidan is certain. “The enemy,” he reported, “has retreated to Gordonsville. . . . I shall move forward on Louisa Court House as soon as Burnside arrives.” He was restrained, however,
1 O.R., vol. xii, part ii, p. 185.
by the more wary Halleck. “Beware of a snare,” wrote the Commander-in-Chief. “Feigned retreats are ‘Secesh’ tactics.” How wise was this warning, and what would have been the fate of Pope had he recklessly crossed the Rapidan, the next chapter will reveal.
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