Major General William H. Emory and the Battle of Cedar Creek

Maj. Gen. William H. Emory, “Old Brick Top,” as he was known in the Regular Army or more simply the “Old Man” to the young soldiers who served under him, is generally viewed as the weak link in the command structure of Gen. Phil Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah. He was certainly an outsider; General Horatio Wright commanded the Sixth Corps from the Army of the Potomac and had fought through Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign. General George Crook was Sheridan’s West Point roommate and a fellow Ohioan. Sheridan’s chief of cavalry, Gen. Alfred T. A. Torbert had served his commander as a division commander since May of 1864. All three of these men had, to one degree or another, already established a relationship with Sheridan, their commander. At fifty three years of age, Emory was also significantly older than the other officers, including Sheridan who was only 32. Emory developed a reputation as a worrier throughout the war. During the Port Hudson, Louisiana Campaign of 1863, staff officer David Hunter Strother believed that Emory’s timid councils were having a negative impact on Union commander Nathaniel Banks. When the fighting at the Third Battle of Winchester or Opequon Creek, temporarily went against the Union, Emory believed that all was lost, but in the end the Union forces achieved victory.

One month later at Cedar Creek while Sheridan was away at Washington, however, Emory prophetically warned Wright and Crook that the army’s left flank was vulnerable to attack. However, the two men whose commands emerged from Third Winchester and Fisher’s Hill with significantly enhanced reputations, “pooh-poohed” Emory’s warnings. Jubal Early struck precisely where Emory had warned. Perhaps Emory had worried one time too many, and Crook and Wright saw his forebodings at Cedar Creek as a case of the boy or cried wolf. In fairness to Emory, however, military officers earn their paychecks considering all of the possibilities and taking action to prevent failure and ensure success. That is exactly what Emory did at Cedar Creek, but he was an outsider and not a member of Sheridan’s inner circle nor was he from the Army of the Potomac. Although, his forewarning only earned him the enmity of Wright and Crook, Emory had done his job. Had Wright and Crook listened to Emory, the need for Sheridan’s famous ride may have very well been eliminated.

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Filed under Battles, Biographical

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