« PreviousContinue »
SHERIDAN BEGINS HIS WORK.
SHERIDAN IN THE VALLEY: ARMY OF THE JAMES: WILMINGTON AND FORT FISHER.
Sheridan in command in the Shenandoah Valley - Enters upon his work with spirit - Defeats Early at Opequan Creek Early's attack upon our forces at Cedar Creek — Nearly a rout, but turned to a victory by Sheridan's arrival - Extracts from Sheridan's dispatches - Early's chagrin - Grant's plans and purposes in neighborhood of Richmond — Fort Harrison taken — Cavalry expeditions and service — Reconnaissances and engagements — Attempt at Hatcher's Run - Subsequent movements - Strategic importance of Wilmington - Expedition against Fort Fisher- - Porter and the naval part of the expedition — Weitzel to command the land troops - Butler accompanies the troops - Naval attack - The troops landed, but not allowed by Butler to assault the fort-Expedition given up by Butler, who is superseded by Gen. Ord-Starts anew under Terry and Porter - Extracts from Gen. Terry's report, January, 1865— Gallant conduct of the navy and army - Value and greatness of our success.
GEN. GRANT, clearly possessed of the | Severe skirmishing ensued, here and dea that it was necessary to have some one efficient commander in the departments of West Virginia, Washington, Susquehanna, and the middle department, recommended that Gen. Sheridan be placed in charge; which was accordingly done, and Sheridan, on the 7th of August, assumed command of the "middle military division."
The enemy, at the time, were concentrated in the neighborhood of Winchester, and our forces occupied. the line of the Monocacy, at the cross ing of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, leaving open to the rebels Western Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania.
Sheridan entered vigorously upon his work. He pushed forward a column from Harper's Ferry up the Shenandoah Valley to Winchester, and beyond, to Fisher's Hill, in the vicinity of Strasburg, where Early was in position.
elsewhere, and Sheridan found it expedient to retire again to the neighborhood of the Potomac. The month of August and the first half of September passed in this way, without any general engagement. "The two armies lay in such a position-the enemy on the west bank of the Opequan Creek covering Winchester, and our forces in front of Berrysville-that either could bring on a battle at any time. Defeat to us would lay open to the enemy the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania for long distances, before another army could be interposed to check him. Under these circumstances, I hesitated about allowing the initiative to be taken. Finally, the use of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which were both obstructed by the enemy, became so indispensably necessary to us, and the importance of relieving Pennsylva
pursued him with great energy through Harrisonburg, Staunton, and the gaps of the Blue Ridge. After stripping the Upper Valley of most of the supplies and provisions for the rebel army, he returned to Strasburg, and took po sition on the north side of Cedar Creek."*
nia and Maryland from continuously with heavy loss on the 20th. Sheridan threatened invasion was so great, that I determined the risk shou.d be taken. But fearing to telegraph the order for an attack without knowing more than I did of Gen. Sheridan's feelings as to what would be the probable result, I left City Point, on the 15th of September, to visit him at his headquarters, to decide, after conference with him, what should be done. I met him at Charleston, and he pointed out so distinctly how each army lay; what he could do the moment he was authorized; and expressed such confidence of success, that I saw there were but two words of instructions necessary-Go in! For the convenience of forage, the teams for supplying the army were kept at Harper's Ferry. I asked him if he could get out his teams and supplies in time to make an attack on the ensuing Tuesday morning. His reply was, that he could before daylight on Monday. He was off promptly to time, and I may here add that the result was such that I have never since deemed it necessary to visit Gen. Sheridan before giving him orders.
"Early on the morning of the 19th of September, Gen. Sheridan attacked Gen. Early at the crossing of the Opequan Creek, and after a most sanguinary and bloody battle, lasting until five o'clock in the evening, defeated him with heavy loss, carrying his entire position from Opequan Creek to Winchester, capturing several thousand prisoners and five pieces of artillery. The enemy rallied and made a stand in a strong position at Fisher's Hill, where he was attacked and again defeated
The rebel commander, having been reinforced, again returned to the Valley, and while Sheridan was absent on business at Washington, he made an assault on our army, which nearly resulted in complete rout and overthrow. On the night of the 18th of October, the rebels crossed the mountains which separated the branches of the Shenandoah, forded the North fork, and early on the morning of the 19th, under cover of the darkness and the fog, surprised and turned our left flank, and captured the batteries which enfiladed our whole line. Affairs were in a most painfully critical condition. Panic was fast demoralizing the army, and in a brief space, had not help arrived, all would have been lost. Most opportunely, that help came in the person of Sheridan himself. He was on his return from Washington, on this eventful morning, and at Winchester, thirteen miles distant, heard the booming of cannon. Instantly, aware of the im portance of his presence, he set off at full speed, and never drew rein till he reached the battle field, his horse cov ered with foam and he himself in a state of intense excitement. He took in the situation at once. He rode along the lines; he shouted to the men,
Report of Lieut.-Gen. U. S. Grant,” pp. 29, 30
SHERIDAN'S VICTORY OVER EARLY.
boys, turn; we're going back!" and so powerful was his influence over the troops, and such new spirit was infused into them by his presence, that they rallied, and renewed the battle to good purpose.
At ten P.M. of the same day, Sheridan sent Grant a dispatch, in which he said: "I have the honor to report, that my army at Cedar Creek was attacked this morning before daylight, and my left was turned and driven in confusion. In fact, most of the line was driven in confusion, with a loss of twenty pieces of artillery. I hastened from Winchester, where I was, on my return from Washington, and found the armies between Middletown and Newtown, having been driven back about four miles. I here took the affair in hand, and quickly united the corps, formed a compact line of battle just in time to repulse an attack of the enemy, which was handsomely done at about one P.M. At three P.M., after some changes of the cavalry from the left to the right flank, I attacked with great vigor, driving and routing the enemy, capturing, according to the last report, forty-three pieces of artillery and very many prisoners. Affairs, at times, looked badly, but by the gallantry of our brave officers and men, disaster has been converted into a splendid victory. Darkness again intervened to shut off greater results. I now occupy Strasburg." Two days later, October 21st, Sheridan wrote again to Grant: "I pursued the routed force of the enemy nearly to Mount Jackson, which point he reached during the night of the 19th and 20th, without an
organized regiment of his army. From the accounts of our prisoners who have escaped and citizens, the rout was com plete. About 2,000 of the enemy broke and made their way down through the mountains on the left. Fourteen miles on the line of retreat the road and country were covered with small arms thrown away by the flying rebels and other debris. Forty-eight pieces of captured artillery are now at my headquarters. I think that not less than 300 wagons and ambulances were either captured or destroyed. From all that I can learn, I thing that Early's reinforcements were not less than 16,000 men.*
Thus was brought to end, as Grant states in his report, "the enemy's last attempt to invade the North by way of the Shenandoah Valley. I was now enabled to return the 6th corps to the Army of the Potomac, and to send one division from Sheridan's army to the Army of the James, and another to Savannah, Georgia, to hold Sherman's new acquisitions on the sea coast, and thus enable him to move without detaching from his force for that purpose."
*Early was greatly annoyed at his defeat, and he
told his troops so, in an address, October 22d: "I had hoped to have congratulated you on the splendid victory of announcing to you that, by your subsequent misconduct, all the benefits of that victory were lost, and
won by you on the 19th, but I have the mortification
a serious disaster incurred. Had you remained steadfast to your duty and your colors, the victory would
have been one of the most brilliant and decisive of the war. You would have gloriously retrieved the reyourselves to the admiration of your country. But many of you, including some commissioned officers, yielding to a disgraceful propensity for plunder, de
verses at Winchester and Fisher's Hill, and entitled
serted your colors to appropriate to yourselves the
abandoned property of the enemy," etc.
After the occupation by Gen. War- weakened by withdrawal of troops to ren of the Weldon Railroad below Pe- the north side. In this reconnaissance tersburg, in August, (p. 453) there was we captured and held the no active demonstration of importance enemy's works near Poplar for more than a month. Grant was Spring church. In the afternoon, troops watching the opportune moment, and moving to get to the left of the point guiding the affairs of the several armies gained, were attacked by the enemy so as to tend steadily, if not rapidly, in heavy force, and compelled to fall to the destruction of the rebels in arms. back, until supported by the forces On the night of the 28th of September, holding the captured works. Our the 10th and 18th corps, forming part cavalry, under Gregg, was also attackof Butler's army, were crossed to the ed, but repulsed the enemy with great north side of the James, and advancing, loss. On the 7th of October, an atearly the next morning, carried the very tack was made on Kautz's cavalry, strong fortifications and entrenchments north of the James, which succeeded in below Chapin's Farm, known as Fort driving back our force, with heavy loss Harrison. Fifteen pieces of artillery in killed, wounded and prisoners, and were captured, and possession was taken the loss of all the artillery, eight or of the New Market road and entrench- nine pieces. The enemy then attacked ments. Following this, an assault was the entrenched line, where Birney was made upon Fort Gillmore, immediately in command, but were repulsed with in front of Chapin Farm fortifications; great slaughter. On the 13th of Octobut it was unsuccessful and attended ber, a reconnaissance was sent out by with heavy loss. Butler, with a view to drive the rebels from some new works they were con structing; no advantage, however, was gained, and our troops met with heavy loss.
Kautz's cavalry was pushed forward on the right, moving along the Central Road, supported by the 10th corps, to the main works, within three miles of Richmond. The two corps now formed a junction on the line of works which they had captured, where they were next day vigorously assailed by the enemy, who had been brought up in force from Petersburg to regain the lost positions. In this assault the Union troops acting on the defensive had the advantage, and gallantly repulsed the impetuous assaults of the foe.
On the morning of the 30th of September, Gen. Grant sent out a reconnaissance, with a view to attacking the enemy's line, if it was found sufficiently
An attempt was made by Grant, on the 27th of October, to penetrate the rebel lines, the movement being on their right flank. The 2d corps, followed by two divisions of the 5th corps, with the cavalry in advance and covering our left flank, forced a passage of Hatcher's Run, and moved up the south side of it toward the Southside Railroad, until the 2d corps and part of the cavalry reached the Boydton Plank Road where it crosses Hatcher's Run. At this point our troops were six miles distant from the Southside Railroad, which Grant
OPERATIONS AGAINST FORT FISHER.
had hoped, by this movement, to reach
ren, which resulted in the destruction of the Weldon Railroad from Jarrett's, below Stony Creek Station, to Bellfield at the Meherrin River. A cold rainstorm, turning to hail and snow, rendered the march, which lasted five days, especially severe and trying to our men.
The successful operations of the navy, in closing the ports of Savannah, Charleston and Mobile, had reduced the rebels to a single place of entrance for the blockade runners and such like. This was the harbor of Wilmington, North Carolina. The approach to this important and valuable strategic posi tion, situated on Cape Fear River, thirty miles from the sea, was protected by several formidable forts and batteries, at the two main entrances at either extremity of the island, stretching across the mouth of the river. The old or western inlet was commanded by Forts Caswell and Johnson and the coast for tifications, while the new or eastern inlet was defended on Federal Point by Fort Fisher, a newly-erected casemated earthwork of great strength, mounting some forty heavy guns. Other formid
The subsequent movements in the Army of the Potomac, during the year, were directed against the enemy's line for receiving supplies to the south of Petersburg. On the 1st of De-able defences, stretched along the shore, cember, Gen. Gregg, at the head affording a secure protection to blockof a strong cavalry force, made a suc- ade runners entering the harbor. The cessful raid upon Stony Creek Station two main entrances being forty miles on the Weldon Railroad, where there apart, intersected by numerous channels, was a store of supplies, this being the it was virtually impossible effectually depot whence they were transferred by to prevent the English vessels, specially wagoning across to the Southside Rail- constructed for the purpose, entering the road. A fort at this place, mounting river. two guns, was assaulted and taken, together with about 200 prisoners. This expedition was followed, on the 6th of December, by another, led by Gen. War
In order to gain possession of Fort Fisher, the land north of New Inlet was a matter of prime importance, and as it required the co-operation of the