Tag Archives: Battle of Moorefield

Bradley Johnson and John McCausland

Brig. Gen. John McCausland

One thing I love about blogging, is that I can sit down and share some brief thoughts on small elements of Civil War history. My recent visit to Moorefield has prompted me to reflect on the problems that Brig. Gen. John McCausland experienced with subordinate Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson at Moorefield.

First some background: Johnson had significant experience serving in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. His prior attachment to that army and his membership in that most peculiar class of Confederate known as the Marylander have elevated his historical reputation well above his actual military accomplishments.
In the 1864 Valley Campaign, he proved careless on several occasions. He laxity on July 16, 1864 allowed a small force of Union cavalry to attack Early’s wagon train at the Purcellville Wagon Raid. That same evening, he failed to post pickets and a small Union force attached his camp and put his entire brigade to flight. Then we have Moorefield.

It is clear that McCausland warned Johnson of Averell’s approach several hours before the attack came. Johnson did not pass the warnings on to his regimental commanders. As a result, they and their men were sound asleep when Averell attacked after his Jessie Scouts “relieved” Johnson’s pickets. Johnson barely evaded capture.

When word of the debacle reached Early’s HQ in the Shenandoah Valley, Jed Hotchkiss related that the only wish there was that Johnson had been captured along with the hundreds of other Confederates at Moorefield. To be fair, McCausland had poorly positioned his command, with his two brigades separated by the South Branch of the Potomac River, a poor choice. But Johnson’s lax security finally caught up with him and cost Jubal Early more than 400 horsemen, 600 precious horses and a battery of horse artillery.

If you are interested in learning more about McCausland, Johnson, Moorefield and its impact on Jubal Early’s Valley Campaign, I cover it in detail in my 2007 Book Shenandoah Summer. See the link below:




Filed under Battles

The Battle of Moorefield

As part of my Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to stop in Moorefield, West Virginia and films some takes for filmmaker Jon Averill. He is a distant relative of Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell, the Department of West Virginia’s great cavalry raider in 1863 and 1864.

In August of 1864, Brig. Gen. John McCausland’s force of two brigades of Confederate cavalry camped near Moorefield to rest after his infamous raid which resulted in the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. While McCausland had about 2,600 men in his force, Averell tracked him down with no more than 1, 500 Union horsemen, from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.  Averell’s scouts dressed in Confederate uniforms and relieved Confederate pickets and captured a southern patrol heading out of Moorefield early on the morning of August 7. Then they charged into the Confederate camps and routed Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson’s command encamped around Willow Hall, driving it back across the South Branch of the Potomac River.

At the river the 14th Virginia Cavalry charged out of McCausland’s camp on the south bank of the river and a wild saber and pistol fight occurred in mid-stream. Averell’s horsemen soon put McCausland’s brigade to flight and the entire force was routed. Averell captured more than 400 prisoners and four pieces of artillery. The defeat shattered the core of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s Cavalry at the very time that U. S. Grant was sending Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley.

Prior to Moorefield, McCausland’s brigade had rendered good serv

ice at the battles of

Jon Averill, Scott Patchan, Nick Korolev, and Rick Byrd at Reynold’s Gap. Averell’s Cavalry passed through this narrow gap on its way to attack McCausland’s Cavalry at Moorefield. (Photo courtesy of Jon Averill)

Monocacy and Second Kernstown. Johnson’s brigade had previously improved itself under its former commander, Brig. Gen. William E. Jon

es who was killed at the Battle of Piedmont on June 5, 1864. What progress these troops had made, was lost in the demoralizing defeat at Moorefield. I

n many ways, Moorefield was a preview of what was to come in the Shenandoah Valley. There is one significant qualifier – Sheridan’s Cavalry in the Valley

overwhelmed their Southern counterparts through sheer force of numbers. Averell had used stealth and lightning quick strikes to achieve victo

ry not only at Moorefield, but also at Rutherford’s Farm (Stephenson’s Depot) on July 20, where he routed Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur. Ramseur had more

than 4,000 men in his force while again Averell was outgunned, having only 2,600 to take into the fight.


Filed under Battles