Battle at Winchester, VA 1864

Winchester, Va. (Opequan, VA)
Sept. 19, 1864.

6th, 8th and 19th Army Corps, and Cavalry Corps.

On Aug. 7, 1864, Maj.-Gen. P. H. Sheridan was assigned to the
command of the Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley. At that
time a considerable Confederate force, under the command of
Gen. Jubal A. Early, was operating in the valley, a constant
source of apprehension to the authorities at Washington, as
Early might at any time make a raid into Maryland or
Pennsylvania or threaten the national capital Sheridan's
instructions from Gen. Grant were to act on the defensive,
watch closely, and when troops were withdrawn from Early to
reinforce Richmond to "Give the enemy no rest, and if it
possible to follow to the Virginia Central railroad, follow
that far.

Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off
stock of all descriptions and negroes, so as to prevent further
planting. If the war is to last another year, we want the
Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste." Sheridan began
active operations on Aug. 10, and from that time until the
middle of September the incidents in the valley consisted of
numerous skirmishes, a series of advances and retreats, the
advantage being sometimes with one army, sometimes with the

All this time Sheridan was keeping a close watch upon the
enemy's movements and when, on the night of Sept. 15, he
learned that Kershaw's division and Cutshaw's artillery had
left Early the day before to join Lee, he decided that the time
had come for him to assume the offensive. His first plan was
to concentrate his forces quickly at Newtown, about 4 miles
south of Winchester, and compel Early to give battle there.

But upon learning, on the afternoon of the 18th, that part of
Early's troops had been sent to Martinsburg, he resolved to
attack the main body of the Confederate army at Winchester
early the next morning. Sheridan's forces at Winchester
consisted of three corps of infantry and the cavalry corps, all
belonging to what was known as the Middle Military Division.

The 6th corps, Maj.-Gen. Horatio G. Wright commanding, was
composed of three divisions, respectively commanded by Brig.-
Gens. David A. Russell, George W. Getty and James B. Ricketts;
the 8th corps (formerly known as the Army of West Virginia),
was commanded by Bvt. Maj.-Gen. George Crook and included two
divisions, the 1st commanded by Col. Joseph Thoburn and the 2nd
by Col. Isaac H. Duvall; the 19th corps, commanded by Bvt.
Maj.-Gen. William H. Emory, was composed of two divisions
commanded by Brig.-Gens. William Dwight and Cuvier Grover.

The cavalry corps was under the command of Bvt. Maj.-Gen.
Alfred T. A. Torbert, and consisted of three divisions, the 1st
commanded by Brig.-Gen. Wesley Merritt, the 2nd by Brig.-Gen.
W. W. Averell, and the 3d by Brig.-Gen. James H. Wilson. With
this force of infantry and cavalry were 25 batteries of light
artillery, the total strength of the army being about 40,000
men, though all were not actually engaged in the battle.

That portion of Early's command opposed to Sheridan numbered
about 15,000 men of all arms. It included Early's old division
now commanded by Gen. Ramseur; Breckenridge's division under
the command of Gen. Wharton; the divisions of Rodes and Gordon;
the cavalry divisions of Gens. Lomax and Fitzhugh Lee, and the
artillery commanded by Col. T. H. Carter.

Sheridan's camp at Clifton on the Opequan creek, 6 miles east
of Winchester, was astir at 2 o'clock on the morning of the
19th, and 2 hours later the army was on the march toward
Winchester. The infantry, with Getty's division in advance,
preceded by Wilson's cavalry, moved along the Berryville pike,
which ran for some distance through a narrow valley along a
small tributary of Abraham's creek.

About 2 miles from Winchester the road debouched upon a
plateau, where part of Ramseur's division occupied a small
earthwork commanding the road at the mouth of the defile. At
dawn McIntosh's brigade of Wilson's cavalry charged through the
valley and drove in the Confederate pickets. Peirce's battety,
supported by Chapman's brigade, was then run forward and opened
fire upon the earthwork, when McIntosh dismounted part of his
command and by a gallant charge drove the enemy from his
position, capturing 80 prisoners.

Recognizing the importance of the position they had lost the
Confederates returned at once to the attack with both infantry
and cavalry, but McIntosh held the intrenchments and repulsed
their efforts to recapture them. At 8 o'clock the 6th corps
arrived on the ground and went into position under a heavy fire
of artillery, Getty's division on the left, Ricketts' on the
right, with Russell's in reserve, and three batteries were
brought up to reply to the enemy's fire.

The 19th corps was moved to the right of the 6th, where it
formed in two lines, but owing to the delay in moving troops
through the narrow canon it was 11 o'clock before the line of
battle was completed. When the fight commenced Ramseur's
division and the small detachments of cavalry guarding his
flanks were the only Confederates opposed to Sheridan's

Had it not been for the delay in bringing up the troops Ramseur
might have been Overwhelmed before reinforcements could be
brought to his assistance as Gordon was at Bunker Hill, about 6
miles from the field, and Rodes was at Stephenson's depot, 5
miles away. As soon as Early heard the Sring he ordered these
two divisions and that of Wharton to Ramseur's relief. A
little while before noon the Union line advanced and for a
short time carried everything before it, when Gordon made a
determined charge on Emory's left, while a battery opened a
heavy enfilading fire on his right, forcing his first line
back, the left brigade breaking in some confusion.

Rodes then attempted to turn the right of the 6th corps and did
succeed in forcing back Ricketts' division, but Wright ordered
Russell's division to move up into the gap made by the
Confederate charge, and directed Col. Tompkins, chief of
artillery, to turn the fire of two batteries on the enemy's
advancing column. The deadly shower of cannister checked the
Confederates and Russell made a gallant charge against their
flank, thus turning the tide of battle.

In this part of the action each side lost a fine commanding
officer, as Russell and Rodes were both killed. Crook's corps,
which had been left in reserve, was now ordered to the front.
His advance arrived on the field about 3 p. m. and formed at
once on the right of the line. As soon as his troops were in
position, Thoburn's division on the left and Duvall's on the
right, he advanced against the Confederate left.

Duvall met with an unexpected obstacle in the way of an almost
impassable morass along Red Bud creek, which it was necessary
for him to cross, and on the opposite bank of which a strong
force of the enemy was posted behind a stone wall. He pressed
forward, however, the men of different commands getting mingled
together in crossing the swamp and creek, and without waiting
to reform his line the whole division dashed forward and joined
that of Thoburn, which had already forced back the enemy in its

Duvall was wounded and Col. R. B. Hayes, afterward president of
the United States, assumed command of the division. The whole
corps then moved forward, driving the Confederates in confusion
and capturing a large number of prisoners and 2 pieces of
artillery. At this juncture another fresh force appeared on
the Confederate left. Merritt's cavalry crossed the Opequan
near the Baltimore & Ohio railroad in the morning and moved
with all possible speed to strike Early on the flank.

At Stephenson's depot he was held in check by Wharton's
division, which had been sent out to meet him. For some time
Wharton was able to prevent Merritt from proceeding further,
when Averell's division, which was coming down the Martinsburg
pike from Darkesville, struck Wharton on the rear and drove him
from his position.

The two cavalry divisions then pushed forward to Winchester and
reached the battlefield just as Crook had routed the enemy
along the Red Bud. Early had sent Fitzhugh Lee to meet the
advance of the Federal cavalry, but a charge of Devin's
brigade, closely followed by Custer's, drove Lee back on the
infantry, when their whole line broke in disorder and fled
through the town.

Devin then turned his attention to a battery on his left front
and ordered a charge, but while his line was forming the guns
were hurriedly withdrawn. The charge was then directed to a
body of infantry which the officers were trying to rally. Like
a tornado the brigade swept into their midst, cutting some down
with sabers, trampling others under the horses' feet, and
scattering the remainder in all directions.

The brigade emerged from the conflict with 3 stands of colors
and 300 prisoners. This ended the battle on the right and
while it was in progress a similar scene was being enacted on
the left. When Wright and Emory saw that Crook's attack was
well under way they advanced their own lines against Ramseur
and Rodes, driving them steadily back to Winchester, which
place was quickly occupied by the troops of the 6th and 19th

An attempt was made to rally the Confederates on the Strasburg
pike south of town, but the two corps changed front with the
design of again attacking and the effort to make a stand there
was abandoned. When Wilson's cavalry was relieved by the
infantry in the beginning of the engagement he was sent to the
left with instructions to attack the enemy on the flank if
opportunity offered.

He first took a position on the Senseny road, where Peirce's
battery was run well to the front and enfiladed the line of
Confederate infantry engaged with Wright's corps. Next he
moved well round toward the Millwood pike, where he encountered
Bradley Johnson's cavalry brigade which had been posted there
to cover the right flank of the Confederate line of battle.

A charge by the 2nd N. Y., led by Capt. Hull, broke Johnson's
line and another charge on his right flank and rear at the same
time by Capt. Boice, with a squadron of the 5th N. Y., sent the
enemy flying to the rear. When Early's army was completely
routed Wilson pursued some of the retreating Confederates down
the Valley pike to Kernstown, where his command went into
bivouac at 10 p. m.

The Federal loss in the battle of Winchester was 697 killed,
3,983 wounded and 338 captured or missing. Early reported his
loss as being 226 killed, 1,567 wounded and 1,818 missing.
(This engagement is sometimes called the battle of the

Source: The Union Army, Vol. 6, p. 949