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
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.