The Battle of Cedar Creek

By Dennis Keating
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2014, All Rights Reserved

This October 19 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. It was one of the most dramatic events in the entire Civil War. Riding his horse Rienzi (memorialized in the stirring poem by Thomas Buchanan Read – “Sheridan’s Ride”) from Winchester, an inspiring Phil Sheridan re-organized and rallied his almost defeated Army of the Shenandoah in a few hours to defeat the rebel army of Jubal Early (Robert E. Lee’s “Bad Old Man”), who had launched a successful surprise attack in the fog that morning in Sheridan’s absence.

Months earlier Sheridan had been selected by Ulysses Grant, with President Lincoln’s support, to clear out the Valley following Early’s defeat of David Hunter’s army and subsequent raid all the way to threaten Washington, D.C. in order to relieve pressure on Lee’s besieged force in Petersburg. Sheridan’s army consisted of the VI Corps from the Army of the Potomac, the XIX Corps from Louisiana, and George Crook’s Army of West Virginia and cavalry commanded by Alfred T. A. Torbert (with division commanders George Custer and Wesley Merritt). Sheridan and his fellow Ohioan Crook had been close friends at West Point. In his army Sheridan had many Ohioans: the Second Brigade of the Third Division of the VI Corps included the 110th, 122nd, and 126th Ohio regiments; the First Brigade of the First Division of Crook’s small army included the 116th and 123rd Ohio regiments; the First Brigade of the Second Division (commanded by future U.S. President from Ohio Rutherford B. Hayes) included the 23rd and 36th Ohio regiments; the Second Brigade included the 34th and 91st Ohio regiments and the 1st Ohio Light Battery L. In Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps there were two Ohio regiments: 2nd and 8th.

Beginning with the third battle of Winchester on September 19 and then at Fisher’s Hill on September 22, Sheridan’s army had smashed the heavily outnumbered Confederate Valley army (despite reinforcements sent by Lee). Sheridan’s cavalry played key roles in both battles. On October 9 Custer led his cavalry against his West Point friend Tom Rosser’s Laurel cavalry brigade. Custer’s rout of Rosser at Toms Brook became known as the “Woodstock Races.” Meanwhile, Sheridan’s army carried out Grant’s order to destroy the farms that were the granary supplying Lee’s army. On October 10 Sheridan’s army encamped near Middletown around the Valley Pike and the North Branch of the Shenandoah River. Early’s defeated army remained close with a signal station atop Massanutten Mountain, overlooking the camps of Sheridan’s army. Believing that Early was decisively defeated, Sheridan went off to Washington to confer about the future role of his army.

Despite being outnumbered both in infantry and cavalry (32,000 to 21,000), at Lee’s urging, Early decided upon a bold move. Adopting a plan proposed by division commander John Gordon (aided by Stonewall Jackson’s Valley topographer Jed Hotchkiss), Early decided to make a surprise early morning attack led by Gordon. It required his troops to cross the Shenandoah in order to attack Sheridan’s left, comprised of Crook’s army and the XIXth Corps of William Emery (known as “Old Brick Top” because of his sandy hair). Gordon led his force through a thick fog along narrow trails and across the river to strike Crook’s First Division led by Joseph Thoburn (one of ranking officers killed). The surprised Federal troops were quickly overwhelmed and Crook’s army was routed. Leading a disorganized retreat was Hayes after his attempt at a stand with his division failed to stem the Confederate tide. Hayes was first injured when his horse was killed and then was stunned by a bullet to his head, but he managed to escape when ordered to surrender. The divisions of Joseph Kershaw and Dodson Ramseur then rolled over the XIXth Corps, which conducted a fighting retreat. As the Federals retreated toward the VI Corps and headquarters at the Belle Grove estate, many of Early’s solders, tattered in dress, many shoeless, and half-starved, stopped to loot the captured Federal camps and the many supplies that they contained. As to whether their looting was a major cause of Early’s defeat became a major controversy.

The VI Corps turned to repel the attack from its east instead of the south and fought stubbornly to halt the rebel advance. Its commander, Horatio Wright (in overall command in Sheridan’s absence), was wounded and his temporary replacement as commander of the VI Corps, James Ricketts, was also wounded (for the sixth time in the war). On the Valley Pike near Middletown Union cavalry arrived to prevent a further advance north by the Confederates, while many of Sheridan’s wagons and stragglers leaving the field back toward Winchester clogged the Pike. That morning Early believed that he had won a great victory, but Gordon urged him to continue the assault. Instead, Early replied: “Well, Gordon, this is glory enough for one day.” Gordon disputed that, claiming that the VI Corps could be destroyed but remembered that Early responded: “No use in that; they will all go directly.” Gordon responded: “That is the Sixth Corps, General. It will not go unless we drive it from the field.” Whether because of the state of his exhausted troops, abetted by those who dropped out to loot the captured camps, Early declined to continue the attack. Fatally, he did not realign his victorious troops into a more defensible position and left his left wing (Gordon’s division) in a very vulnerable state.

Sheridan’s Ride, chromolithograph by Thure de Thulstrup

Sheridan awakened in Winchester that morning. Being informed of firing to the south, he and others thought that this was only a reconnaissance. However, he was shortly informed that his army had been routed and was in retreat. Mounting his steed Rienzi, accompanied by his aides and a cavalry escort, Sheridan then headed south to rejoin his army. As they encountered fleeing wagons and retreating soldiers, Sheridan urged his soldiers to join him, saying “Boys, if I had been with you this morning this would not have happened.” Shouting his name, many did turn around and headed back to the battlefield. Cheers accompanied his arrival to greet George Getty, Ricketts’ replacement, and then Crook, whom he embraced. He then found the wounded Wright, who informed him that “We’ve done the best we could.” Emery then arrived and informed Sheridan that his corps was ready to cover the retreat to Winchester, to which Sheridan replied: “Retreat, hell. We’ll be back in our camps tonight.” Sheridan then set out to re-organize his army in order to counterattack Early’s army. At aide “Sandy” Forsyth’s suggestion, Sheridan rode Rienzi along the lines to the resounding cheers of his rejuvenated troops to assure them of his return to lead them. Bruce Catton reported their reaction by the historian of the Vermont Brigade: “Such a scene as his presence produced and such emotions as it awoke cannot be realized once in a century.”

By late afternoon, Sheridan was ready and ordered an attack along his whole line to the sound of blaring bugles. After initial resistance, eventually the Confederates gave way on their outflanked extreme left. This in turn led the other units to crumble and a wild retreat south began, with Sheridan’s cavalry in pursuit. Sadly, Colonel Charles R. Lowell, Jr. was killed by a sharpshooter as he led the Reserve cavalry brigade. Trying to rally his division, Dodson Ramseur had two horses shot under him before being hit himself. A new father hoping to see his newborn child, Ramseur was taken to Belle Grove, where he was visited by his friend Custer. Ramseur died the next morning.


  • It is generally agreed that Sheridan’s victory, after the previous Federal victories at Atlanta and Mobile, assured Lincoln’s re-election in November.

  • Sheridan’s Horse: He was renamed “Winchester.” He died in 1878 and was stuffed.

  • 21 Union soldiers received the Medal of Honor.

  • Jubal Early: Lee recalled most of Early’s surviving army. On March 2, 1865 at Waynesboro, Custer’s cavalry scattered his small remaining force. Early escaped to rejoin Lee but was in disgrace and sent home. After the war, he became a leading proponent of the “Lost Cause.” He and Gordon engaged in continued recriminations over responsibility for the defeat.

  • John B. Gordon: He became a corps commander and led the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. He later became a member of the Klu Klux Klan and then a U.S. Senator from Georgia.

  • Philip Sheridan: He won the battle of Five Forks, forcing Lee’s retreat from Petersburg and he then cornered Lee’s much reduced army at Appomattox. He and Crook engaged in a continuing dispute over credit for the victories in the Valley campaign. He became the Army commander in chief in 1883 following Sherman’s retirement.

  • Rutherford B. Hayes: Elected governor of Ohio, he was then elected the 19th president of the United States, following Grant, in the controversial contested election of 1876.

  • George A. Custer: He was prominent in the Appomattox campaign, was a postwar favorite of Sheridan, and gained glory/infamy with his defeat and death at the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

  • George Crook: He too became a cavalry commander in the West. He resigned in a dispute with Sheridan and Nelson Miles over the treatment of the captured Apache chief Geronimo.

Related links:
Jubal Early: Lee’s Bad Old Man
“Sheridan’s Ride” by Thomas Buchanan Read


Bruce Catton. A Stillness at Appomattox. 1953. Doubleday. [Chapter 5 [4]: “No More Doubt”]

Daniel Davis. Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. 2014. Savas Beatie.

Gary Gallagher. The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. 2009. U. North Carolina Press.

Thomas Lewis. The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864. 1989. Time-Life Books.

Thomas Lewis. The Guns of Cedar Creek. 1991. Harper & Row.

Jonathan Noyalas. The Battle of Cedar Creek (VA): Victory from the Jaws of Defeat. 2009. History Press.

Jeffrey D. Wert. From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864. 1987. South Mountain Press.

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Three Ohio Civil War Veterans Who Became President

By Dennis Keating
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2007, All Rights Reserved


Five Ohio-born Civil War veterans later became President of the United States. William Tecumseh Sherman might have been a sixth, but he famously refused to be nominated. The first was Ulysses S. Grant, the victorious hero and general in chief who captured three Confederate armies and who served two terms as the 18th President succeeding Andrew Johnson, the assassinated Abraham Lincoln’s second Vice President. Grant, of course, deserves separate treatment by himself and also began his Civil War career in Illinois, not Ohio.

Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President, was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison (“Old Tippecanoe”), the first president to die in office. Benjamin Harrison, son of a U.S. Congressman, moved to Indianapolis to practice law with the brother of General Lew Wallace (of Ben-Hur fame) and was more associated with Indiana than Ohio. He commanded the 70th Indiana Volunteers and distinguished himself at the battle of Peach Tree Creek outside Atlanta in 1864 against Hood. He won the Republication nomination in 1888 over the U.S. Senator from Ohio, John Sherman, the general’s brother. He defeated incumbent Grover Cleveland, who had been the first Democratic president elected since the Civil War, even though he had received fewer popular votes. He was defeated in his re-election bid in 1892 by his predecessor, Grover Cleveland. Curiously, Harrison’s granddaughter by his second wife would marry the great grandson of President James Garfield.

This article will recount the Civil War experiences of the remaining three Ohioans and also add some information about their presidencies, two of which were cut short by assassination.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes

A graduate of Kenyon College and Harvard Law School, Hayes was a Cincinnati lawyer in 1861. He and his home guard company, mostly comprised of members of the city’s Literary Club, enlisted, with Hayes becoming a captain, in the 23rd OVI, commanded by William Rosecrans. Hayes would later succeed him as colonel of the regiment (with two companies from Cleveland). A diarist, he wrote almost daily about his experience.

The 23rd saw its first action in September 1861 in West Virginia. On May 10, 1862, serving under Jacob Cox in West Virginia, Hayes suffered the first of four wounds that he received during the war. James Monroe is the only other American president who was wounded in battle.

Transferred to the Army of the Potomac under George McClellan, Cox’s Kanawha Division led the attack at Fox’s Gap at South Mountain on September 14, 1862, where Hayes was again wounded leading the 23rd. Hayes was subsequently promoted to brigade commander in the Kanawha Division. His next action was to pursue John Hunt Morgan in his July 1863 cavalry raid in Ohio, engaging him shortly before his capture at Buffington Island.

Back in West Virginia and now serving under fellow Ohioan George Crook, Hayes’s brigade took part in the 1864 campaigns in West Virginia and then in the Shenandoah Valley under Generals David Hunter and Phil Sheridan. At Kernstown in July, Hayes was credited with enabling Crook’s force to escape from Jubal Early. During the course of this battle, Hayes received his third wound. He also was a hero at Opequon (Third Winchester) in September, taking over command of his division when its commander was wounded. Hayes’s troops then participated in Crook’s successful flanking movement at Fisher’s Hill. Hayes and his wife Lucy named their fifth son, born a week following this battle, after George Crook.

Elected to Congress on October 18, 1864, Hayes was to play a more humbling role the next day at Cedar Creek. His division was routed by John Gordon’s surprise attack and Hayes was wounded for the fourth time (and had his horse killed under him). After Sheridan’s successful counterattack and rout of Early, Hayes was promoted to major general. He was preparing to attack Lynchburg when Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

After serving in Congress, Hayes returned home to be elected Governor of Ohio in 1867, serving three terms and helping to found Ohio State University. At the Republican convention in Cincinnati in 1876 (the centennial anniversary of the United States), favorite son Hayes won the nomination over two contending rivals. He won the presidency that fall over Democrat Samuel Tilden, reform governor of New York, in one of the most controversial elections in American history. Despite Tilden’s edge in the popular vote, on a straight party line vote (including Garfield’s), a special Congressional commission awarded disputed elections in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina to Hayes, giving him 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184.

Opponents called Hayes “Rutherfraud.” Allegedly, Democrats did not dispute this outcome based on an agreement that Hayes would withdraw the remaining federal troops from the South, formally ending Reconstruction. Hayes did. In addition, he used federal troops to end the 1877 railroad strike and unsuccessfully campaigned for civil service reform. With his wife’s approval, he banned alcohol in the White House, earning her the nickname “Lemonade Lucy.” True to his campaign pledge, he served only one term.

James A. Garfield

James A. Garfield

The last president born in a log cabin (in Orange, now Moreland Hills), a graduate of Williams College, Garfield was a college president and Ohio state senator (rooming in Columbus with future fellow general, Jacob Cox) when the war began.

After being rebuffed in his attempts to be elected colonel of two Ohio volunteer regiments, he was appointed by the governor to head (and recruit) the 42nd OVI. With a small force of Ohio and Kentucky volunteers, Garfield defeated a similar Confederate force in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky in January 1862. This resulted in his promotion to Brigadier General, commanding a brigade in Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio. Serving as the rearguard, it was not engaged in the second day’s battle at Shiloh.

Elected to Congress in the fall of 1862, his next military assignment was to replace the chief of staff of the Army of the Cumberland (now commanded by William Rosecrans, former commander of the 23rd OVI), who had been killed at the battle of Stone’s River. Garfield was instrumental in the successful Tullahoma campaign that forced Braxton Bragg’s army out of Chattanooga. At Chickamauga, Garfield gained fame by leaving the departing Rosecrans, after Longstreet’s breakthrough on the second day, and riding to join George Thomas on Snodgrass Hill.

Promoted to Major General, Garfield resigned from the army in December 1863 to take his seat in Congress as its youngest member. A leader in the postwar Republican party, he became a dark horse compromise candidate at the 1880 Republican Chicago convention that denied Ulysses Grant a third presidential nomination. Instead, Garfield was nominated on the 36th ballot. His unlikely running mate was New Yorker Chester Arthur, the collector of customs previously fired by Hayes for incompetence and corruption.

Garfield barely beat former Union Civil War hero Winfield Scott Hancock in the popular vote, but easily won the electoral college vote. Garfield is the only minister and the only member of the U.S. House of Representatives ever directly elected president.

During his brief time as the 20th president, Garfield was occupied with the conflict between party patronage demands and reformer opposition. While awaiting a train in Washington, D.C., accompanied by Secretary of State James Blaine and Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, on July 2, 1881, Garfield was shot in the back by a disappointed office seeker, Charles Guiteau. Due to blood poisoning caused by his doctors’ probing for the bullet that entered his body, Garfield died after lingering for 79 days. Ironically, his successor – Chester Arthur, the party hack – signed the Pendleton Act, creating civil service reform.

Garfield is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland. The Garfield Monument there was dedicated in 1890.

William McKinley

William McKinley

At the age of 18, William McKinley of Poland (near Youngstown) enlisted as a private in the regiment commanded by Rutherford B. Hayes – the 23rd OVI. Befriended by Hayes, McKinley, now a sergeant and quartermaster, gained renown at the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 by carrying rations under fire to Ambrose Burnside’s Ninth Corps. McKinley later became a staff officer, ending his military career in the Shenandoah Valley as a major.

Postwar, McKinley became a lawyer in Canton and then Stark County prosecutor. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives during 1877-1891. He was best known for the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, arguably leading to the Democratic landslide election victory that year and causing the 1893 Depression.

McKinley was elected Ohio Governor in 1891 and left in 1896 to run for president, with Cleveland industrialist and U.S. Senator Mark Hanna as his campaign manager. Hanna was a powerful fundraiser and also employed new advertising techniques in McKinley’s successful front porch campaign against Democratic western populist William Jennings Bryan (who delivered the “Cross of Gold” speech arguing for a free silver currency standard).

The 25th president was the last Civil War veteran to hold this office. During his first term, despite his opposition to demands for the liberation of Cuba from the Spanish empire, after the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor, McKinley presided over the Spanish-American War. This led to the conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines by the U.S. In the Philippines, the U.S. then had to fight another war lasting 14 years to subdue native guerillas opposed to the American occupation. The United States also annexed Hawaii.

With war hero and former New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt as his new running mate, McKinley easily won re-election in 1900 over Bryan in a rematch. On September 5, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, McKinley was shot at a public reception by anarchist Leon Czolgosz, a former Cleveland resident. He died from gangrene after complications from surgery eight days later, allowing Teddy Roosevelt to become president, to the great dismay of Mark Hanna. One of James Garfield’s sons served as the Secretary of the Interior under Roosevelt. In memory of McKinley who wore one daily, the red carnation was later named Ohio’s state flower.


Armstrong, William. 2000. Major McKinley: William McKinley & the Civil War. Kent State University Press.

Perry, James M. 2003. Touched With Fire: Five Presidents and the Civil War Battles That Made Them. New York: Public Affairs.

Peskin, Allan. 1978. Garfield: A Biography. Kent State University Press.

Williams, T. Harry. 1965. Hayes of the Twenty-third: The Civil War Volunteer Officer. New York: Knopf, Presidential Museums.

Click on any of the book links to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.