FIRST BATTLE OF BULL RUN
The war began with both sides confident of an early victory and in May 1861, Union troops crossed the Potomac River, captured Alexandria, Virginia, and moved into north-western Virginia. The major Confederate army, some 22,000 men under General P T Beauregard, was concentrated at Manassas Junction, a key railroad centre about 30 miles south-west of Washington. Seeking to deliver a mortal blow to this army of insurrection before reinforcements could reach it, General Irvin McDowell led a Union force of 30,000 towards Manassas. On July 21st, in the First Battle of Bull Run, the Confederate troops, reinforced in time, won a resounding victory. The result was not strategically significant, but the setback forced a humiliated North to abandon hopes for a 90-day war and to raise a more substantial army. In contrast, the South left Bull Run with a sense or overconfidence that impeded proper preparation for the long conflict ahead.
BATTLE OF CEDAR MOUNTAIN
This indecisive military engagement of the war was fought on August 9th 1862 near a hill called Cedar Mountain in Culpepper County, Virginia. A Union force led by General John Pope, commander of the Army of Virginia, met an advancing Confederate army of about 24,000, commanded by General Stonewall Jackson. Pope sent General Nathaniel Banks to meet Jackson with a force of about 8,000, about half the size of the Confederate force that was engaged in the battle. After furious fighting, Banks' troops pursued by Jackson's forces, withdrew toward the town of Culpepper. The Union army received reinforcements, however, and counter-attacked, checking Jackson's advance. On August 11th the Confederate army fell back towards Gordonsville, Virginia. Jackson's losses were 1,338 killed and wounded: Pope's included 1,759 killed and wounded and 594 missing
BATTLE OF CEDAR CREEK
An important military engagement of the War, fought on October 19, 1864, near Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Shenandoah River, in Shenandoah County, Virginia. The action began when a Confederate force of about 18,000 men under General Jubal Early made a surprise attack on contingents, totalling 31,000 troops of the Army of the Shenandoah, commanded by the Union General Philip H Sheridan. Early's forces struck at dawn under the cover of fog and darkness, overrunning the Union positions, and by midday they had succeeded in advancing as far as Middleton, Virginia. Meanwhile, Sheridan, who had been absent from the front on official business, rejoined his army after a fast ride from Winchester and assumed command. Late in the afternoon he ordered a general counter-offensive, which broke through the Confederate lines. Early's army retreated in panic, pursued by Sheridan's cavalry across Cedar Creek to Woodstock. Union casualties were 644 killed, 3430 wounded and 1591 missing. Confederate casualties were about 320 killed, 1540 wounded and 11050 missing. As a result of their defeat at Cedar Creek, the Confederate forces made no further attempts to strike the North through the Shenandoah Valley. Sheridan's famous ride from Winchester and its aftermath, one of the most dramatic episodes of the Civil War, are the theme of "Sheridan's Ride" by the American poet Thomas Read.
THE BATTLE OF LEWISBURG (May 1862)
At 5 a.m. on the morning of May 23rd 1862, Lewisburg, normally a peaceful town of 800 inhabitants awoke to the roar or artillery and the rattle of musketry.
On that morning, at this most unlikely spot, Union and Confederate forces met in a brief but very deadly battle that is little remembered today.
The Union force was the 3rd Provisional Ohio Brigade commanded by Colonel George Crook, best remembered as the captor of Apache Chief Geronimo.
The Brigade consisted of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry of Marietta, the 44th Ohio Volunteer Infantry from Springfield, and a detachment of the 2nd (West) Virginia Cavalry which, in spite of its designation, was made up largely of volunteers from Ohio.
The Federals had a total strength of 1400 troops supported by two mountain howitzers.
Colonel Crook had passed through Lewisburg earlier, May 12th, on a raid to cut the Virginia Central Railroad at the Jackson River near Covington. This raid was part of a larger Federal effort to sever communications between Virginia and Tennessee. However, Crook had to abandon his plan when he learned that the rebels were moving on Lewisburg, in his rear, after having successfully repulsed similar Federal raids to the south-west. Fearing he would be cut off, Crook withdrew to Lewisburg, arriving there on May 21st.
The Ohio brigade encamped on the high ground at the western edge of town, which is now the Confederate Cemetery, this provided a good view to warn of an attack by the rebels. Crook posted guards at the bridge on the Greenbrier River at Caldwell, three miles to the east on the James River Kanawha Turnpike.
Confederate forces commanded by Brigadier general Henry Heth, advanced on Lewisburg from the east after a long march from Pearisburg through Monroe County. They seized the bridge at Caldwell, capturing the Federal pickets, and then moved on Lewisburg in the early hours of May 23rd. Heth's brigade was a mixed bag. It included the 22nd Virginia Infantry and the 45th Virginia Infantry.
There was a detachment of the 8th Virginia cavalry (dismounted) and two recently recruited and untrained militia battalions led by Lieutenant Colonel William Finney and Major George Edgar. This force mustered approximately 2300 men supported by six artillery pieces.
The Confederates, though tired and hungry after their long march, were confident of victory. The 22nd and 45th Virginia were battle-tested and had yet to experience defeat. The Southerners had the advantage of numbers and weight of artillery, and they thought they had the element of surprise - erroneously as it turned out, Company D of the 44th Ohio, under Captain Lysander Tulley, had been sent forward to reconnoitre and alerted Colonel Crook of the impending attack.
After a brief skirmish, Tulley's men withdrew in good order but the Confederates thought they had the enemy on the run.
Upon reaching Lewisburg, General Heth formed his battle line along the heights at the eastern edge of town. Two battalions were placed on the Confederate left along Holt Lane, the 45th Virginia occupied the centre of Heth's line along Dwyer Lane, the 22nd Virginia was on the right flank. The 8th Virginia cavalry was in reserve and the artillery was placed in the backyard of the General Lewis Inn and on Dennis Street. One piece was also placed on the left flank and another near the 45th Virginia's position.
General Heth opened the battle in earnest at 5 a.m. with a bombardment of the Union camp, which caught the Ohion's at breakfast. Some of the artillery fell short, killing a soldier of the 22nd Virginia and striking the church, but they soon found their range. The Ohio brigade was the first to react, they lined up near the cemetery and led by Colonel Sam Gilbert advanced against the Confederate left and the artillery that interrupted their breakfast. At the same time, the 36th Ohio assembled in the vicinity of the Courthouse and attacked at Heth's right flank.
Although it was their first battle, the soldiers of the 36th Ohio behaved like veterans. They advanced uphill against a superior position, delivering heavy and effective fire on the 22nd Virginia. While the 36th and 44th Ohio were simultaneously advancing and hotly engaged on left and right, the 2nd West Virginia Union cavalry charged boldly against the centre of the Confederate line. The units on the Confederate left were the first to collapse under the spirited Federal assault. On reaching the crest behind the General Lewis Inn, the 44th Ohio overran the Confederate artillery. Although not properly supported by infantry, the southern artillerymen refused to abandon their guns and twenty were killed and many more wounded.
As the guns were being overrun, the Confederates untrained militia moved forward to counter the advance of the 44th Ohio. While crossing an open field, they came under intense fire from the 44th, the battalion wavered, then broke and the militiamen fled the field as the officers tried to rally the men in vain. The collapse of the militia on the Confederate left exposed the 45th and 22nd Virginia to a withering enfilade from the 44th Ohio. Assailed from the front and left flank, the 22nd Virginia lost 149 men of the 345 engaged.
Heth had no choice but to sound the retreat for his remaining troops. The withdrawal under fire turned into a route, which remained unchecked until the beaten Confederates crossed the Greenbrier River and burned the bridge behind them. The retreat continued until Heth's troops reached Union in Monroe County. The battle lasted little more than an hour, with the Virginia casualties greatly exceeding those of the Federals. Eight Confederates were dead on the field, 100 wounded and 257 taken prisoner. Militia officers were some of those captured.
Crooks troops captured 300 muskets, 25 horsed and four artillery pieces. The Union casualties were 13 killed, 53 wounded and seven missing.
Nearly all the regiments that took part at Lewisburg were to go onto further battles such as Second Manassas, Antietam, Chickamauga and Cold Harbour.
Above miscellaneous snippets provided by Alan Grimes (From Microsoft's Encarta 98 Encyclopaedia)
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, June-October 1998