Tag Archives: Third Battle of Winchester

Battle of Winchester is heart-racing history in Shenandoah Valley

By Scott Patchan. Savas Beatie. 576 pages. $34.95


Michael L. Ramsey | Michael L. Ramsey is president of the Roanoke Public Library Foundation.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The 1864 battle of Winchester in Virginia marked a seminal point in the War of Rebellion and became a proving ground for United States Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s field leadership.

Leading the enemy army was Jubal A. Early, former prosecuting attorney and General Assembly delegate from Franklin County who also argued in the General Assembly against secession (as his constituents wanted).

Shenandoah Valley native and Civil War historian Scott Patchan offers a fresh account of that battle in his new book, “The Last Battle of Winchester.”

Most of the book is filled with descriptions of troop movements and battles. You would expect that. What you might not expect is vibrant prose and clear descriptions that are engaging in a way not usually found in books about warfare.

Patchan tells about the troop movements as if he were a journalist witnessing the action. There is nothing dry or academic in this narrative. It will transport you to the lower Shenandoah Valley in 1864.

And there are maps . No book about battlefields and the movement of two armies and their many divisions should be without maps — lots of maps.

Another distinction of Patchan’s book is his use of the prose style of the Cult of the Civil War.

Sheridan is often referred to as “the Ohioan ” or “Little Phil” or the “little Irishman from Somerset, Ohio.” George Armstrong Custer is sometimes called the “blond cavalry officer.” And Confederate soldiers are called “butternuts,” a reference to the color of their uniforms.

The use of sobriquets is common among Civil War enthusiasts. It shows a level of familiarity and camaraderie that one soldier feels for another. It establishes “street cred” among the true believers, and it provides a kind of charm distinctive to the genre. The use of contemporaneous slang also enhances the descriptive power of the author by re-creating the atmosphere of the time.

If there is a fault in the book, it is the Monday-morning quarterbacking that also is a characteristic of people who study war. After any battle, everybody is a better general than the man in the field — especially if the battle is almost 150 years old.

To deflect some of Patchan’s criticism of Sheridan, consider this defense: Sheridan was developing a new means of using the disparate units of his army as a solidified force, not as separate units fighting in the field, but as a cohesive fighting force. This new use of an army was pioneered by Sheridan during the campaign from Winchester in 1864 until Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865.

The “missed opportunities” for complete defeat and the resulting prolonged war also appears to be part of the overall philosophy of utter and total defeat which would discourage soldiers and citizens from trying to restart the war.

As Sheridan said to Prussia’s Otto von Bismark in 1870, “the people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with after the war.” One way to accomplish that is to drive an army to the point that it begs for the opportunity to surrender.

What matters with “The Last Battle of Winchester” is that this book is an excellent account of the facts of the battle. It evokes emotions associated with the warfare. At times, Patchan’s descriptions of battle will make your heart race as if you were in the field yourself. The plentiful graphics help you keep your bearings.

One strong benefit for local readers is the depiction of Early, especially when Patchan exposes his sense of humor. One such incident involved Maj. Gen. John Breckinridge — a Kentuckian — who, having heard many references to first families of Virginia, asked what happened to the state’s “second families.”

Early overheard the questions and offered an answer : “They all moved to Kentucky.”

Patchan always finds time to clearly explain the overall strategies of both sides of the conflict as each tried for decisive victories in the field while protecting their respective capital cities and their valuable railways. Strategy for the United States included a need for significant victory in the Shenandoah Valley in order to support efforts to re-elect President Abraham Lincoln.

Read this book. If you are a Civil War buff, the battlefield action will excite you. If you are interested in history, knowing more about a campaign that helped the survival of the United States will enlighten you. If you are neither, the prose will delight you. If you travel through the Shenandoah Valley, the vivid description of the scenery and what happened there 150 years ago will ignite your imagination so you will have a new appreciation for ground over which you travel.


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Star Fort at Winchester – Kudos to the Shenandoah Valley Foundation and Tom Munford’s Virginia Cavalry

This past weekend, Childs Burden of the Mosby Heritage Area Association allowed me to lead his group on a tour of the Second Battle of Winchester. One of the most interesting sites in Winchester that we visited was the Star Fort just off Route 522 immediately northwest of town. Most people in the group had not been there before. Those that had didn’t recognized the place. The Shenandoah Valley Foundation has done a wonderful job along with the Friends of Star Fort in clearing out the overgrown vegetation and turning this into a site that can be easily visited by Civil War tourists. And tour it they did, and enjoyed every minute of it. Denman Zirkle and Terry Heder up at the “Valley Foundation” have done a wonderful job. Keep it up. Civil War Battlefield Preservation is the lifeblood of the SVBF.

My only quibble is with the historical marker for the Third Battle of Winchester. It places Wickham’s Brigade under the command of Col. Tom Munford in Star Fort and has them driven out by Col. James Schoonmaker’s Union cavalry. It is a historical fact that Schoonmaker was awarded the Medal of Honor in the 1890’s for leading a charge on Star Fort. However, we should not denigrate the reputation of Munford and his Virginians to elevate the reputation of a second tier Federal cavalryman. Munford’s Virginians are among the best cavalryman of the war, and they were not driven from Star Fort by Schoonmaker. In fact, they were never in Star Fort and repulsed Schoonmaker when he attempted to follow up his attack against the next heights closer to Winchester.  Here is what Munford has to say about what happened:

“Off we went at a trot, and when we reached the left things looked very ugly for us. General Breckinridge and his staff were exerting themselves to rectify our infantry lines.  We could see our cavalry were moving up to meet a very large force who were coming down the pike….  Averill sent a mounted regiment to take Fort Hill to the North of Winchester. Generla Early had no idea of allowing him to hold it, as that covered the pike below, and sent orders to me to take it and hold it.  Up the hill we went and at them, followed by two guns of our horse artillery. We drove them from the hill, ran the two pieces into the fort, dismoutned the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Virginia Cavalry, giving the 3rd Virginia the protection of the horses, and we had just gotten into the fort when Averill charged to recapture it; but we gave them a rough welcome, and sent them back faster than they came. A second charge was made with the same result during which time our two guns had been doing splendid services.”

Thomas T. Munford, “Reminiscences of Cavalry Service,” SHSP, 13:449-451.

The fort to which Munford refers is Fort Jackson, which he clearly idendified to Jed Hotchkiss, who made notes of his discussion with Munford and drew a sketch of the action. Fort Jackson is on the next heights south of Star Fort. Modern US 522 runs through the low ground between the two heights. Image

Munford left Fort Jackson after covering the retreat and was not driven out by a cavalry attack. When his brigade came under heavy fire from three Union batteries concentrating on Fort Jackson, Munford ordered them out. He actually had to charge and drive off some of Wilson’s cavalry division which was coming up south of Winchester as Munford withdrew. Munford’s action’s probably saved thousands of Early’s men from capture, and if there was a medal given out to Confederates that day, Tom Munford certainly should have been a recipient.

The overall Star Fort site as stated previously is fantastic, with excellent information on the construction of the fort and its role in the Second Battle of Winchester. It was also a great weekend to spend some time with fellow historians and and old friends such as Eric Wittenberg, Bob O’Neil, Horace Mewborn,Scott Mingus, the gang from Roanoke Sarge Wheeler and Clive Rice, Terry Yount, Hal Jesperson, Johnnnie Pearson and a host of other wonderful folks and fine historians.

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The 151st New York, Third Division, Sixth Army Corps in the Shenandoah Valley

The Orleans American.
Thursday Morning. Oct. 13, 1864.
Interesting Letter from the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia.
September, 17, 1864.
BRUNER BROTHERS:— We are in camp on or near Clifton Farms. We know very little about the place, but suppose it to be one of the great, broad possessions of Virginia aristocracy. We came here the 3d inst. This is the longest rest we have had since the pulling up of camp near Culpepper, May 3d. Here there is no firing oftener than once in two or three days. Day before yesterday there was a reconnaissance by the Cavalry supported by the 2d Division of the 6th Corps. Yesterday morning they brought in an entire regiment of South Carolina prisoners.
Since you heard from us at Buckeye-stream, Md., there has been a continued active campaign. We were put on the cars at Monocacy Junction, our old battle-field, the next morning and came directly to Harper’s Ferry, and thence to Bolivar Heights. The army of the Middle Department, well organized under Gen. Sheridan, a brave and accomplished soldier, advanced up the Valley as far as Strasburg; and then back again to Hoeltown, near Bolivar; out again beyond Charlestown; back again to near Harper’s Ferry; and, after a season, another forward movement as far as this place. During the time there has been several little skirmishes but with small loss to the 3d Division. The morning we were ordered from Monocacy Gen. Grant was there. He was at Gen. Hunter’s head-quarters near by the railroad, and as the troops passed by they cheered him grandly. The movements that have been made since then have taught us what he knew then and we did not. Now this morning the Corps Officer of the Day has passed along and reported that Gen. Grant had arrived and was now at Gen. Sheridan’s headquarters.
Inspections are prevalent, and affairs begin to assume a shape that indicates active operations again.
It is singular how soon after an engagement soldiers forget their sorrow for loss of friends; forget their hardships and trials and suffering. After getting in camp and rested, all hands are jubilant. All the little amusements and sports that can be invented, are indulged in. They are very innocent, and certainly beneficial and desirable. Such sports as pitching quoits, playing duck, jumping, cock-fighting &c. We go into a battle and perhaps one sees his best friends cut down by his side. This is grievous and cannot be blotted from the memory in an instant, but it does no good to brood in a melancholy mood over the matter. The hopeful and cheerful spirit is everywhere prevalent in the army. One regiment of our Brigade goes home one week from today. The 87th Pa. are brave soldiers and have done three years good service. We are rejoiced to see so many left to go home. The Brigade is having some recruits, conscripts and substitutes sent to it. Substitutes are usually poor soldiers, however. This Valley is an excellent country, but it should be entirely cleaned out and not a citizen be allowed to stay in it at present. The armies here are using up the substance of this section most effectually.
Occasionally there is a letter published in the Northern Rebel papers reported to be from soldiers. Do not believe this. There was one the other day quoted as being from a soldier in the 151st and dated at Strasburg, the 26th ult. The author ought to be a little more careful in regard to dates. We were not at Strasburg, at all at that time. Seymour, Vallandigham, Pendleton & Co., need not flatter themselves that the army is disloyal, or even partisan. Occasionally, to be sure, a sour, selfish misanthrope may talk venomously, but as a general thing the great mass speak, and will vote for Union and the suppression of the Rebellion by force of arms. The only safe Platform before the people is that of the Union. The nominees of the Baltimore Convention are satisfactory. Everything looks bright and promising.
Wise men told us, even in the days of greatest gloom and doubt, that all would be well. Gen. Grant is rapidly bringing the campaign to a successful and satisfactory consummation. We are all anxiously looking forward for the end of this awful war. But, be assured, none in the army are anxious to have it close till it is done honorably and effectually. The 8th Artillery are really unfortunate. It is sad to see so large a regiment cut down so rapidly. You may remember that out term of service expires Oct., 22d 1865. We trust, by the kind protection of God, to come home safely and honorably.
HARRISONBURG, Va. Sept. 26th.
Since I wrote the above there has been no mail; and there has been so much greater events that all else is made insignificat; nevertheless you have it.
We received marching orders the next day, (Sunday 18th,) but after getting packed up the orders were countermanded. At night, however, about ten o’clock, orders came to march at 2 o’clock, Monday morning. After marching about seven miles in the direction of Winchester we met the enemy. A battle ensued, the first of two great engegements and Victories during last week. The details of these battles are probably already familiar to you. A Cavalry fight occurred in the morning, and then infantry skirmishing till 11:40. At this time a grand charge was made of all the line. The enemy were driven and bitterly punished, but under his withering fire our forces were obliged to fall back a little. This was owing in a great measure to an accidental halt in our lines. But it was only for a short time, and our boys again recovered all the ground the had taken and held it by persistent fighting for four or five hours. The lines were again formed to good order and another charge made which night alone ended. The enemy were driven and dispersed and hosts of prisoners captured together with several cannon.
Our forces occupied Winchester and camped that night on the south side of the town. The 151st were on the skirmish line in the forenoon and consequently did not have to go forward in the first charge, and their loss is not so severe as that of other regiments. The greatest loss was in the first onset. Cannonading was kept up during the brisk skirmishing in the forenoon and many were killed and wounded. Capt. Williams was wounded while skirmishing. He is a very brave officer. Col. Emerson, commanding Brigade, and Lieut. Col. Fay, commanding the Regt., have acquitted themselves gallantly. They have had many narrow escapes. The loss of the regiment is only about 25. That of Brigade 289. This is out of about 900 or 1,000 fighting men. Our in prisoners is nothing. I inclose a list of casualties among the Orleans Co. boys. The lost some of its finest field officers. Major Dilingham the 10th Vt., son of the Lieut. Governor of that State, and Maj. Medenburgh of the 14th N. J., are both among the killed. Both these officers were commanding regiment. Gen. Russell commanding the 1st Division of the 6th Corps was killed early in the engagement.
Tuesday morning this army marched forward up the Valley, reaching Strasburg the same day, and found the enemy in his old intrenched position. The following day our Corps moved to the right and advanced on the enemy, but darkness coming on suspended further operations. During the night fortifications were built, but not used, for early the next day skirmishing began, and an advance was made. The 3d Div. of the 6th Corps was legitimately in reserve, but actually in front. Orders were given that the 8th Corps should take the main works while the 3d Div. of the 6th were to carry a certain crest. But as soon as the charge was ordered, the whole army pushed irresistibly and frantically forward carrying everything before them. Darkness ended the charge but it did not end the exultation—cheers, huzzas and yells. A constant and heavy fire was kept up all day and caused some occasional loss, but it was trifling in comparison with the great achievement. The enemy were behind strong works and a great slaughter was expected if not a repulse, but by the superior strategy of Gen. Sheridan the “Johnnies” were completely routed and lost at least 21 guns, and hosts of prisoners. Gen. Sheridan has made himself everywhere conspicuous during the recent engagements, riding up and down the lines in the hottest of the fire; infusing his troops with the greatest enthusiasm. Officers and soldiers were wild in their pursuit of the retreating foe, but the rebels run so like sheep it was impracticable for infantry to continue further. So cavalry and flying artillery followed as well as they could in the darkness.

After the troops were reorganized and had cooked coffee they moved deliberately forward to Woodstock, 12 miles, where we made breakfast. After a few hours rest we went “onward” again, to Edinburg. The next morning early, marched again, overtaking the enemy at Mt. Jackson. But they were readily shelled out, and after that during the day their rear was constantly in sight. We marched with a skirmish line in front and the “Johnnies” were obliged to skirmish what they could with us in face of our artillery, all the afternoon, continually retreating. Finally, just before dark they made a strong stand about three miles this side of New Market, when night came and we camped. Yesterday the army marched to this place and have remained here to day. The enemy appear to have divided and a portion gone the other side of the mountains. This is most disgraceful retreat any army ever made. Several of their hospitals have fallen into our hands. There are four in this place.

The army, at least our Division, is well supplied with tobacco here. The soldiers are nearly subsisting off the country. This is a pleasant, fertile and fruitful section. The weather is excellent. We are some distance away from our base of supplies, and had hard work getting here, but who says we have not done a successful week’s work?
Yours truly, HOLLEY.

Note from Scott:  The 151st New York Infantry was armed with breach-loading Sharps rifles. Because of this, they usually served on the skirmish line for the Third Division, Sixth Army Corps.

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The Army of West Virginia at the Battle of Opequon Creek (Third Battle of Winchester)

The following is a letter from a staff officer of the Army of West Virginia detailing that command’s critical role in the Union victory at Opequon Cree on September 19, 1864.

Fisher’s Hill

October 10, 1864


Editors Intelligencer:


            In your paper of September 26, I find what purports to be an account of the battle near Winchester on the 19th of that month. The article was copied by you from the New York World and was maliciously written with the sole object of glorifying a single officer, who although never so gallant and brave, was, on that occasion, only one of a number of heroes whose noble and devoted efforts brought success o our arms in a complete and glorious victory.

            Justice to others requires that the friends of the officers and soldiers composing the Army of West Virginia should have a candid, truthful statement of the events… that I propose to address myself. It would be superfluous for me to given an account of that portion of the battle prior to the bringing up of the reserve, as it is not necessary to the object proposed. Suffice it to say the engagement had been of several hours duration-that the fighting, though obstinate, had brought us no very decided success-that the 19th corps had been several time repulsed, and wa unable to advance and that when the reserve, or the Army of West Virginia, was brought into the engagement, “the even scales in doubtful balance hung,” or rather preponderated against us.

            We had come to a dead lock, and could move the wheels no further with the means hitherto employed. In this posture of the affair, Gen. Crook disposed his gallant command for going into the

Maj Gen. George Crook

Maj Gen. George Crook

fight. The 1st Division, Col. Thoburn’s, was formed in an open field in the rear of a wood occupied by the line of the 19th corps, in two lines, the first consisting of the 1st brigade commanded by Col. George D. Wells, 34th Mass; the second of the 3rd brigade, commanded by Col. Thomas M. Harris, 10th West Va. The 2nd brigade of the 1st Division, commanded by Col.
Robert S. Northcott, having been detailed to guard the train was not in the fight. The 2nd Division, Col Isaac H. Duval’s, was in a like manner formed in two lines in rear of the 1st Division. Gen Crook went into the battle feeling that the fate of the day depended on the conduct of his command, amost earnestly did he labor, not only to impress his division and brigade commanders, but his whole command with the importance of unflinching courage and indomitable determination on their part; and right well did he succeed in that which is the truest part of a great commander, viz: infusing his own gallant determination into his command. These dispositions having been made, the next step was the deployment of the 2nd Division to the right of the 1st, and the whole command was moved as to throw it to the right of, though slightly overlapping the line of the 19th Corps, the object being to turn the enemy’s left.     

            Gen. Crook accompanied the 2nd Division in its deployment, superintending its movements, which were rendered somewhat difficult from the fact that they had to be made through a dense wood in part. It was further obstructed by a slough or pond, which, though not wide at any point, was in places deep and difficult to cross. In its direction in front, tt bent around to the right so that in the advance of the 2nd Division, its two lines were confronted by this obstacle.[1]

            The lines of the 1st Division having advanced through the woods behind which they had been formed to its opposite edge, which revealed the enemy’s position in our front behind stonewalls and hastily constructed works and in and behind buildings [of Hackwood Farm] and extending into patches of woods on our left. The 1st Division was halted for a time to await the getting into position of the 2nd Division. At length, the cheer from that division was heard, indicating that it had received the order to charge, and at this signal, Col. Thoburn, in conformity with instructions he had received from Gen. Crook, ordered the 1st Division to charge and drive the enemy from his position, a task which had been assayed in vain by the 19th Corps over the same ground.

            With bayonets glittering, the lines moved forward rapidly, the men cheering as only the Army of West Virginia knows how to cheer; over fences, through open grounds and through woods, right forward the line advanced in the face of a most terrible fire which strewed the ground with a dead and wounded. In a very short time, the 1st Division had driven the enemy from and had possession of his very first line of works. But so determined was the spirit of the command, and so unbounded its enthusiasm from this, its first success, that scarcely stopping to breathe, onward it went, driving the enemy from one position to another, until the lines now composed of both brigades, mixed up in the completest confusion, as a result of these various charges came within good range for grape and canister from the enemy’s batteries. The troops took advantage of whatever cover presented itself, and all seemed content for a time with merely holding the ground already gained.

            In the meantime, Col. Duval, in his advance encountered the obstruction referred to and found it so great an obstacle as to effectually arrest the advance of a large portion of his command. It was thus compelled to retrace its steps or rather by a march by the flank recross [Red Bud Run] near where the division had crossed at the onset of its deployment, and then came up in rear of the 1st Division. The Colonel Duval, who sees no obstacles, having affected a crossing, pushed forward with the broken and scattered portions of his command that had gotten over, and with the aid of our cavalry, that at this juncture made a charge which broke and drove back the enemy’s left, he succeeded in forming a junction with Col Thoburn who already held the advanced position.[2]

            The place of difficulty was now on our extreme right, where our line was much exposed in open ground, in good range of the enemy’s guns, as well as of his musketry. Here Colonels Thoburn, Duval, Wells, Hayes and man staff and other officers, labored for an hour and a quarter, under a most murderous fire, and labored successfully, to keep the men from breaking. They advanced them as individuals and in squads from one point to another, wherever the slightest cover presented itself to act as sharpshooters. In this way, a line of sharpshooters was finally established of sufficient strength to produce a manifest impression on the enemy’s fire, especially the artillery. Here Col. Duval was wounded after having his horse killed under him. Col. Thoburn had his horse killed and was standing by Col. Duval in consultation, or was near him when he was struck.

            Here the ground was literally strewed with men and horses, dead and wounded. Here, many gallant officers fell or were disabled and taken off the field.  Lt. Col. John Linton, commanding 54th Penn., Lt. Charles W Kirby, Adjt. 10th W. Va., and Lieut. O. P. Boughner, Adjt. 10th W. Va. And Assistant Adjutant General, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division. At this juncture, our cavalry made its final grand and gloriously successful charge, sweeping over the plain from our right, round to our front; breaking the stubborn lines that were holding us in check, and capturing and bringing out many prisoners. Taking advantage of the confusion produced in the enemy’s ranks by the charge, our whole line advanced promptly, consisting now of the 6th Army Corps and the Army of West Va., the 19th Corps being marched by the right flank now appeared in the form of a reserve in our rear, supporting our right.

            In a very short time, we had possession of the enemy’s guns that had but a few moments before been dealing death to us with an unsparing hand. The enemy was routed. The sun was low in the western horizon, but as the result of these many hours of sharp and deadly conflict, the day was won.

            At the going in of the reserve and during Gen. Crook’s absence with the 2nd Division, Gen. Sheridan gave his personal attention to that portion of our lines formed by the 1st Division of Gen. Crook’s command, as being the point of the highest importance and interest. Sheridan expressed himself to Colonel Thoburn in the most enthusiastic terms of commendation of its conduct in this most arduous and successful charge or rather succession of charges. After the junction of the 1st and 2nd Divisions, Gen. Crook watched and directed the whole in the ablest manner.

            Where the conduct of all was so good, it would be invidious to draw comparisons, or descend to special references. Our glorious success on that ever memorable day was the result of wise combinations, a faultless disposition of our forces and the most sublime display of courage and indomitable determination on the part of the officers and men, and finally to the gallant conduct of the reserve, the Army of West Virginia.




[1] The slough or pond spoken of was Red Bud Run. While it bent somewhat to the right, it became an obstacle more so because Duval’s division wheeled to the left to strike the Confederate flank on the other side of Red Bud Run. Duval’s men were not aware of the nature of the slough until they stumbled upon it in the midst of their attack.

[2] The author of this letter being from the 1st Division is not entirely correct in his recounting of Duval’s advance. The latter’s division bypassed the obstruction by flanking to both the right and left of the miry stretch of Red Bud Run. Some troops attempted to follow Col. Rutherford B. Hayes across the “morass,” but only a handful succeeded. Most marched upstream and crossed at Hackwood a few hundred yards upstream or marched back downstream until they reached a point where the stream was fordable. In addition to encountering the swamp, Duval’s division met heavy resistance from Confederates posted on the south bank of the stream. The advance of Thoburn’s division on the south bank of the run and the Union cavalry farther to the rest forced those Confederates to fall back before Duval’s “straggling advance” as one of his officers termed it.

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Cox’s Brigade at Third Winchester Update

Alfred Young of Pennsylvania has conducted decades of research on casualties in the Army of Northern Virginia in the 1864 Campaigns. His study of the Overland Campaign will soon be published by LSU Press. He was kind enough to share his findings on Third Winchester with me. We have corresponded and spoke on the phone many times over the years and I am very happy that his work is coming out soon. He his a dogged research and a first class gentleman.

As a footnote to Capt. Galle’s account of Third Winchester, Alfred’s research revealed that Cox’s brigade lost 278 men killed, wounded and captured at Winchester. The 4th and 14th North Carolina regiments lost 152 of the brigades total loss. Cox carried no more than 1,000 men into battle that day.

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Brig. Gen. William R. Cox’s Brigade at the Third Battle of Winchester

Captain Seaton Gales served on the staff of Brig. Gen. William R. Cox, a North Carolina brigade commander in the division of Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes. Gales relates the course of action for Cox’s Brigade on September 19, 1864 at Winchester and freely and accurately describes reasons for the Confederate defeat. He also expresses the grief felt throughout the army at the death of Rodes during the battle.

September 18, 1864: We tarried at Bunker Hill in the morning, while Gor

Brig. Gen. William R. Cox

Brig. Gen. William R. Cox

don moved to Martinsburg and repeated the comedy of ejecting Averell. We

returned to Stephenson’s depot at night, while G

ordon retraced his steps to Bunker Hill and bivouacked for the night, as after events proved a most lamentable error.

September 19, 1864: Early this morning a rapid cannonading in the direction and vicinity announced the enemy had evidently advanced in force. Ramseur was at the immediately menaced point, Breckinridge was a few miles off, we were lying at Stephenson’s Depot, five miles off, and Gordon was at Bunker Hill, twelve miles away. We were immediately and rapidly moved forward the noise of the incipient conflict increasing and deepening as we proceeded.

As the various divisions would reach the field, they had, of course, to be put in by detail. At a point about 1½ miles from Winchester, we first attacked the enemy, the left of the 19th and the right of the 6th Corps confronting us. The men went to their work in splendid style, and almost in the first dash, succeeded in driving the yankees in great confusion before them. Though our losses were quite heavy-not however to be compared to theirs. It was in this first collision that our gallant Major General Rodes fell, pierced through the head. I was quite near him when he was struck, and cannot describe my feelings of regret and dismay when I witnessed his fall. Cool, brave, cautious, sagacious and skillful, he commanded the full confidence and affection of his troops to the fullest extent. I regard his death as one of the severest losses which our cause has sustained during the war.

At almost every other point as our forces successively came up and engaged the enemy, victory seemed to incline in our favor. Towards noon there was a pause of several hours in the conflict or rather I shall say a cessation of general fighting, and we all began to fondly hope that the foe was too badly crippled and demoralized to resume it. But their great numerical superiority not only gave them the power of reinforcing their lines, and then by restoring confidence, but also to extend them beyond so far as to overlap our left, where we had cavalry protection alone. It is a well known principle or at least experience of warfare, that cavalry, even where the advance of numbers rest with them, are incompetent to cope with infantry, and accordingly when the enemy bore down in force upon ours, they were swept away like chaff, our left of completed turned, and the enemy came rushing in like an avalanche upon our flank and rear.

This of course necessitated a rapid falling back upon our part for new position and dispositions, almost inevitably engendering confusion-a confusion which was converted into a panic, and became with some few and isolated glorious exceptions, so general that all efforts to rally, reanimate and reform the men were unavailing. The army retreated in disorder thro and beyond Winchester, losing a number of prisoners, slowly pursued by the enemy, who however, were frequently confronted by our veterans, who, indignant at the flight of their comrades, would turn with heroic desperation and deliver a volley.

Our own brigade behaved as well as could be expected under such disheartening circumstances. At one moment when it was on the point of giving way, Gen. Cox seized the colors, and he and I, side by side, rode far in advance of the men, cheering them back by the example. God’s mercy alone prevented our being killed, as a storm of bullets greeted our conspicuous presence. Night soon intervened to prevent further pursuit, and we continued to Newtown, near which, we lay the greater portion of the night in line of battle, while thro the night, our stragglers were constantly coming in. And so terminated for the present, a most disastrous affair.

An incident of this fight dwells with most painful impression upon my memory. While engaged in rapidly transmitting orders, just as the retrograde movement commenced, a wounded officer, lying on the field most piteously besought me to take him up behind me on my horse, to prevent his falling into the hands of the enemy. To have stopped to do this would have involved almost certain death for both or at least would have delayed or prevented the communication of most important orders, and I was compelled as gently as possible to refuse his prayer. But I shall never cease to remember the imploring and agonizing express of his countenance.

Source: Journal of Capt. Seaton Gales, contained in Our Living and Our Dead,

Newbern, N.C., March 4, 1874.

To learn more about the Third Battle of Winchester or Opequon Creek, order a copy of my upcoming book from Savas Beatie. It calls upon 20 years of research using sources like Gales’s account to weave together the story of Third Winchester in detail for the first time.


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Memory versus Reality: A Comparison of Two Colonels: Rutherford B. Hayes and Joseph Thoburnh

Post War Perceptions of Leadership in the 1864 Valley Campaign

These two men had Civil War careers that in many respects were very similar. Both men capably commanded brigades and divisions as colonels on many hard fought battlefields, but never wore a general’s star in combat. Yet their respective roles in the memory and history of the 1864 were markedly different. The purpose of this article is primarily to examine how post war developments influenced their relative roles in history as compared to what they actually accomplished as military officers.

Outside of Philip Sheridan and George A. Custer, Rutherford B. Hayes is probably the most well known Union officer in popular history of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. He was an attorney and a local politician prior to the Civil War. After the war, Hayes was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio in 1864 and governor of that state in 1867. In 1876 Hayes was elected president in an election that was decided by the House of Representatives in what was term by some as the “Crooked Bargain.” Hayes secured his election by agreeing to pull U.S. troops out of the South, effectively ending reconstruction.

Joseph Thoburn was born in County Antrim in the North of Ireland and his family immigrated to America, where he grew up near St. Clairsville, Ohio. He studied medicine and ultimately became a doctor in nearby Wheeling, Virginia. When war erupted in 1861, he became the surgeon of the 1st Virginia (U.S.) infantry which was recruited in the Virginia panhandle between Ohio and Pennsylvania. The regiment reorganized for three years, the men voted Thoburn Colonel.

In 1862, Thoburn led the 1st Virginia in a charge against Stonewall Jackson’s forces at the First Battle of Kernstown. Leading his men forward with his hat on the tip of his sword, Thoburn went down wounded as his troops raced to the wall against fellow Virginians of Jackson’s army. Thoburn returned to duty in time to lead his regiment again at the Battle of Port Republic. That summer he participated in the campaign in Northern Virginia under Gen. John Pope as a brigade commander at Cedar Mountain and Second Manassas. That fall he returned to West Virginia where he served as a regimental and brigade commander guarding Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and chasing down Rebel raiders in the Mountain State for the next eighteen months.

In the spring of 1864, Thoburn returned to the Shenandoah Valley as a brigade commander. At New Market his troops covered the retreat of the beaten Union force. At Piedmont, Thoburn led a rapid attack on an exposed Confederate flank that captured 1,000 prisoners and several battle flags and cleared the way for the first ever occupation of Staunton by Union forces. He performed ably during Gen. David Hunter’s Lynchburg Raid. When Hunter’s forces returned to the Shenandoah Valley under Gen. George Crook that July, Thoburn had risen to command of a division. On July 18 at Snickers Gap or Cool Spring, Thoburn maintained his composure when his superiors put him in a now-win situation with the Shenandoah River at his back and three Confederate divisions in his front and on his flanks. He fought off their attacks from the banks of the river and successfully extricated his force to the east bank of the river at night. His next action came at the Second Battle of Kernstown. In this engagement, Thoburn found himself covering the retreat of a shattered Union army in the Valley once again.

When Sheridan took over in the Shenandoah Valley for the Union cause, Thoburn continued to be a key contributor to the Ohioan’s success. At the Third Battle of Winchester, his division drove Confederate General John B. Gordon’s division from its position and then attacked a brigade of Confederates that was holding up Col. Isaac Duval’s division along the swampy banks of Red Bud Run. Thoburn’s advance struck these Southerners in the flank and rear, and cleared they way for Duval’s division, to join the fight en masse. At Fisher’s Hill, Thoburn’s division encountered the most difficult resistance of any Union forces and was responsible for capturing much of the Confederate artillery and prisoners at that engagement. Thoburn’s final engagement came at the Battle of Cedar Creek, where Jubal Early routed Crook’s tiny Army of West Virginia from its camps early that morning. Thoburn lost his life attempting to rally troops in the streets of Middletown. He would be remembered fondly as “Cool Joe” Thoburn by the men who served under him, but his name and his contributions for the Union cause have been largely lost to history.

Hayes began the war as major of the 23rd Ohio Infantry, initially troubled by his assignment to a regiment from northern Ohio. As a major, he participated in the battle of Carnifex Ferry, West Virginia in September 1861. He remained in West, Virginia conducting raids and chasing down Confederate partisans. In the late summer of 1862, he went to Virginia with the Kanawha Division to reinforce the Army of the Potomac. By then he was a lieutenant colonel in command of the regiment. His arm was shattered as he led the 23rd Ohio in a charge against a Confederate brigade at the battle of South Mountain, Maryland. After a lengthy recovery he returned to duty and like Thoburn, saw dramatic uptick in his combat experience after U.S. Grant assumed overall command of U.S. forces and had every able bodied man attacking the Confederacy on some front.

At the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain on May 9, Hayes once again led from the front, leading his men across the miry Back Creek and doggedly advancing under a galling Confederate fire. When a flank movement played out to his left, Hayes’ men stormed over the Confederate works from the front and led the pursuit of the beaten Confederates toward Dublin. He participated in the Lynchburg Campaign, and skirmished with Confederate cavalry during the campaign near Snicker’s Gap. On July 24, George Crook ordered Hayes into a no-win situation, but the brave Ohioan dutifully lead his troops forward until they were savagely attacked on their left flank by Confederates under Gen. John C. Breckinridge. Although Hayes’ men were the first to be hit, he regrouped his men under fire, and formed part of the rear-guard, firing the last shots of the day at Bunker Hill, 14 miles north of the point where they were first attacked.

At the Third Battle of Winchester, Hayes, still in command of a brigade, was sent north of Red Bud Run with Isaac Duval’s division to conduct a flank march. All went well until the division stumbled blindly into a swampy stretch of Red Bud Run. Under fire from a brigade of Confederates stationed on the Hackwood farm, Hayes plunged his horse into the “morass” as his men would forever after call it, and attempted to cross. When his horse became bogged down in the slimy mud, he dismounted and struggled across followed by comparatively few men. Isaac Duval saw that the stream narrowed a few hundred yards west, and ordered the men out of the swamp and to cross in that direction which they did after Thoburn’s appearance on the flank and rear of the Confederates opposing Duval forced them to conduct a hurried retreat. Then Duval and Hayes’ joined the final attacks against the Confederates, joining Thoburn and driving the Confederates from a stonewall to the Smithfield Redoubt on the outskirts of Winchester. In front of these works, Duval’s division became pinned down under heavy artillery fire. Shortly before they made the final assault, Duval was wounded, and Hayes ascended to command of the division leading it in the final assault and was the first command into Winchester.

Three days later, Hayes’ division was part of Crook’s flanking column that marched along the eastern slope of Little North Mountain and attacked Early in his rear at Fisher’s Hill. Hayes played an important role as his division advanced well to the rear of the Confederate line and flanked the Confederates out of every position they attempted to take as they tried to confront Thoburn.

At Cedar Creek, Hayes and his command were surprised and routed as part of Early’s predawn assault. He rallied a cadre of men and remained with Crook throughout the day, helping to cover the retreat. All in all however, the battle of Cedar Creek, while a resounding Union victory, was a disappointing way for Hayes to end his career as a combat commander. Never again would he lead his men in battle. Although he was elected to congress in the fall of 1864, he remained with the army until the war ended.

In looking at the relative military careers and accomplishments, both Thoburn and Hayes had their share of successes and failures, often on the same battlefield. However, Thoburn clearly had more combat experience than Hayes and more at a division level. In short, he was a marginally more accomplished combat officer than Hayes. Yet Thoburn died at Cedar Creek and Hayes went on to become President. As a result of Hayes’ post-war political career, Hayes’ role in every action he was involved in has been called to everyone’s attention by every author who writes about those engagement, and quite naturally so. However, we need to keep in perspective that there were many “Cool Joe” Thoburn’s out there who did not go onto become president who had equal or better combat records than Hayes during the 1864 Valley Campaign. To Hayes’ everlasting credit, he always regarded his time as commander of the 23rd Ohio during the Civil War as the greatest accomplishment of his life, even after spending four years in the White House (or perhaps moreso).

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