April 1, 1865: Battle of Five Forks

Wednesday, April 1, AD 2015


 On March 31, 1865 General Pickett, commander of the Confederate forces at Five Forks had launched an attack on Sheridan’s troopers driving them south to just north of Dinwiddie Court House.  However, his left flank being threatened by troops of the V Corps arriving to reinforce Sheridan, Pickett retreated to Five Forks.  Sheridan followed the retreating Pickett, and launched an attack on the Confederate breastworks at 1:00 PM on April 1, with two divisions of dismounted Union cavalry, armed with Sharps repeating rifles.  This intense fire pinned down the Confederates while the infantry of the V Corps massed to attack the Confederate left.  At 4:15 the attack went in , overcoming a stubborn Confederate defense.  Sheridan removed General Warren from command of the V Corps on the grounds of being dilatory in arranging the attack of the V Corps, a decision which was ruled unfounded by an Army court of inquiry in 1883.  Confederate casualties were almost 3,000 many of them prisoners, and Union casualties were 830.  The Confederate right had now been turned, and largely obliterated, and the   Southside Railroad lay exposed to the Union.  Richmond and Petersburg could no longer be held.



Here is Sheridan’s report of the battle:

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2 Responses to April 1, 1865: Battle of Five Forks

  • Thoughts on Sheridan’s relief of Warren?

    I happen to think that it was unjust, but I am also sympathetic to Bruce Catton’s take: had the leaders of the Army of the Potomac taken the same approach earlier in the war to genuinely dilatory commanders, the war would have been much shorter.

  • “Thoughts on Sheridan’s relief of Warren?”

    In the abstract unjust, but I agree with you and Catton that if Sheridan’s attitude of fast movement and hard fighting had been the order of the day for the Army of the Potomac from its inception, the War might well have ended in 1862.

March 2, 1865: End of the War in the Valley

Monday, March 2, AD 2015




It had been a long and grueling War in the Shenandoah Valley with some towns changing hands some seventy times between Union and Confederate forces.  On March 2, 1865 it came to an end.  Jubal Early’s force, stripped over the winter to shore up Lee’s thin ranks holding the lines at Petersburg, was now reduced to 1500 men.  Sheridan was moving South, initially under orders to move into North Carolina and link up with Sherman advancing into North Carolina.  Not wanting to leave Early in his rear, Sheridan sent twenty-five year old Brigadier General George Armstrong with a division of cavalry, 2,500 men, to find Early.

Custer had graduated dead last in his class at West Point in 1861, making him the class goat.  The “goat” had a spectacularly successful War, rising in rank from Second Lieutenant to Major General of Volunteers. (He had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General of Volunteers, passing over the intervening ranks, in 1863.)  Daring and combative, Custer had helped transform Union cavalry from lackluster to an able strike force.

Early posted his small force on a ridge due west of Waynesboro, Virginia.  Arriving at 2:00 PM on March 2, Custer quickly saw that Early had fortified his position and that head on attacks would probably not work, but that Early’s left could be turned.  (Early had thought that a thick wood adequately protected this flank.)  Sending one brigade to turn the Confederate left while he attacked frontally with two brigades worked  to perfection.  Virtually the entire Confederate force was taken prisoner with Early and fifteen to twenty Confederates escaping.  Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle from his Memoirs:

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15 Responses to March 2, 1865: End of the War in the Valley

  • Custer victorious!

  • Custer was also an enthusiastic participant, under Sheridan, in the burning of the Valley in 1864, a despicable crime against the mainly Dunker and Amish farmers who were not even Confederate supporters, having raised the ire of Confederate officials due to their avoidance of military service.

    During the Burning of the Valley, less known than Sherman’s March to the Sea, yet equally brutal, farmsteads and civilian property and houses were indiscriminately destroyed, civilians killed, and no provision made for the homeless and starving valley inhabitants left in Custer’s wake. It was a policy of targeting civilians, not an isolated war crime. It is not far from living memory in the Valley to this day.

    Needless to say, no tears were shed in the Valley for Custer when Little Big Horn settled the score.

  • Using the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, Custer also managed to stymie the immortal Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg. When he respected his opponent, Custer was a solid officer.

  • “During the Burning of the Valley, less known than Sherman’s March to the Sea, yet equally brutal, farmsteads and civilian property and houses were indiscriminately destroyed, civilians killed, and no provision made for the homeless and starving valley inhabitants left in Custer’s wake.”

    I am unaware of any civilians that were killed during the Burning of the Valley, although both Custer and Mosby engaged in shooting out of hand some of the prisoners they captured during the fighting in the Shenandoah. The troops were under orders to spare sufficient crops for the maintenance of the family owning a farm. Burning of agricultural areas of an enemy of course was not invented by the Union and is a tactic as old as War. George Washington got his Iroquois name of Town Burner during the revolution for ordering his troops to torch Iroquois towns due to their siding with the British in the war.

  • “George Washington got his Iroquois name of Town Burner during the revolution for ordering his troops to torch Iroquois towns due to their siding with the British in the war.”

    Washington needed to save the frontier. All but one tribe of the Iroquois confederation actively fought for the crown. They didn’t merely side with the Brits. Loyalist terrorists led them on starkly terroristic raids against American civilians in NY and PA, which was (like the Shenandoah Valley for the CSA) the breadbasket of the nascent United States’ Army.

  • Stephen Starr, a historian of US Cavalry in the War (http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/10428/14567), not a Confederate sympathizer, wrote of the Burning: “The deliberate planned devastation of the Shenandoah Valley has deservedly ranked as one of the grimmest episodes of a sufficiently grim war. Unlike the haphazard destruction caused by (Gen. William T.) Sherman’s bummers in Georgia, it was committed systematically, and by order.”

    Sheridan boasted that he ”destroyed over 2200 barns…over 70 mills… have driven in front of the army over 4000 head of stock, and have killed … not less then 3000 sheep…. Tomorrow I will continue the destruction.” Extant letters by Sheridan’s troops described themselves as ” barn burners ” and ” destroyers of homes. ”

    A reported “embedded” with Sheridan described the destruction:
    The poor, alike with the rich, have suffered. Some have lost their all. The wailing of women and children, mingling with the crackling of flames, has sounded from scores of dwellings. I have seen mothers weeping over the loss of that which was necessary to their children’s lives, setting aside their own; their last cow, their last bit of flour pilfered by stragglers, the last morsel that they had in the world to eat or drink. Young girls with flushed cheeks, or pale with tearful or tearless eyes, have pleaded with or cursed the men whom the necessities of war have forced to burn the buildings reared by their fathers, and turn them into paupers in a day. The completeness of the desolation is awful.

    I know it’s common these days to shrug at such war crimes (deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure); but the CCC reiterates traditional Catholic teaching that: “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.”

    While I can’t imagine that Washington ever attempted war crimes specifically intended to destroy civilian farms, homes, and personal property on the scale of the Burning of the Valley or the March to the Sea, if he had it would not make those crimes somehow less morally repugnant.

    Sheridan did not just burn a town; he devastated a vast region supporting thousands of civilians, for the express purpose of demoralizing the populace.

  • “Sheridan did not just burn a town; he devastated a vast region supporting thousands of civilians, for the express purpose of demoralizing the populace.”

    Nope, he did it to prevent the Shenandoah from any longer supplying Lee’s army, which function the “breadbasket of the Confederacy” served throughout the War. The true war crime would have been to allow this to continue and prolong the War.

    As for Washington, we do not have to guess, we have his orders to General Sullivan which stated in part:

    “Orders of George Washington to General John Sullivan, at Head-Quarters May 31, 1779
    The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed. But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.”

    War is a very rough business and future enemies of the United States would do well to ponder American history before they start a war with us. When the life of the nation is at stake the gloves come off.

  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not a manual to be used to plan or conduct a war. The pacifism that has found its way into the Church and become virtual dogma is not dogma at all.

    War is ugly, maybe not the ugliest of man’s endeavors but it ranks up there. God does not rule over us with an iron fist. We are left to rule ourselves. As Clausewitz said, war is an extension of politics. Politics is how we govern ourselves.

    The Popes who called for the Crusades were not interested in mercy for the Islamic invaders. Queen Isabel the Catholic was merciful and magnanimous in victory but as hard as carbon steel in waging war against the Moors. General Curtis LeMay would have wiped out every living Japanese through saturation bombing if Japan had not surrendered.

    General Sherman wanted to leave a path of destruction through the heart of the Confederacy so that that generation and succeeding generations would never again think of inciting war. Innocent people were hurt and killed. This happens in war. South Carolina got it worse than Georgia. South Carolina is where it started and Sherman was going to see to it that they were punished.

    I remember a part of the Civil War miniseries on PBS about Gettysburg – far from where I live now but only an hour away from where I used to live between Baltimore and DC. I went there several times on warm weekend summer days. The CSA marched into Pennsylvania, kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery in the South. Georgia, South Carolina, the Shenandoah Valley – they paid dearly for what they wanted.

  • These are just a few of the hundreds of facts from Southern and Northern sources about the burning.
    Although Grant did not order homes to be destroyed and Sheridan did not account for any, that was what happened, according to Heatwole’s book “The Burning, Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley.” His accounts of homes burned for spite, vengeance or through carelessness come from diaries, letters, military reports and newspaper stories.

    A Pennsylvania cavalryman wrote home in mid-October: “We burnt some sixty houses and all most of the barns, hay, grain and corn in the shocks for fifty miles (south of) Strasburg. … It was a hard-looking sight to see the women and children turned out of doors at this season of the year.”

    Among the unfortunate was John Alexander Herring Sr., who was ill in bed in late September when soldiers showed up at his 1776 estate, Retirement, near Dayton.

    Soldiers carried the owner out of the house and dumped him onto the lawn.

    From there, he and his wife watched as household possessions were thrown through smashed windows and the house set afire along with the barn and other outbuildings.
    Just like no order was ever found from Hitler to destroy the Jews, no order was found about the destruction of the valley, but the officers knew what was wanted and the worst was done to the people of the valley, just as it was done all over the South.

  • “From there, he and his wife watched as household possessions were thrown through smashed windows and the house set afire along with the barn and other outbuildings.
    Just like no order was ever found from Hitler to destroy the Jews, no order was found about the destruction of the valley, but the officers knew what was wanted and the worst was done to the people of the valley, just as it was done all over the South.”

    Hitler and the burning of the Valley? Really? Neoconfeds really need to get a life.

    “In reality, Sheridan had given specific orders: barns and mills containing grain or forage were to be reduced to ashes; but, the properties of widows, single women, and orphans were not to be molested and private homes were not to be harmed. Evidence shows that most of the soldiers followed orders, though there were a number of instances of looting.

    The order did not preclude the Anabaptist Mennonites and Brethren; members of pacifist sects who opposed the killing of other human beings and rebellion against established authority as a part of their religious beliefs. They were also some of the finest farmers in the Shenandoah Valley. While Sheridan sympathized with their plight he told their representatives that they would all have to suffer a bit longer if the war was to end.

    Sheridan and his officers determined the best way to cover as much territory as possible in his campaign was by using cavalry. In areas where his three cavalry divisions could not operate in concert because of road systems, time was set aside to bring ruin to those specific sections outside the main roads.

    There were many actions by Confederate rangers, guerrillas, and bushwhackers during the destruction that sent Union soldiers and their officers into frenzied acts of retribution above and beyond they original plan. In the middle of the burning period, on the evening of October 3, Sheridan’s chief engineer, Lt. John Rodgers Meigs was killed in a firefight with Confederate three scouts. The scouts from the 1st and 4th Virginia Cavalry had been sent into enemy lines to determine the location of Sheridan’s forces. Gen. Early regrouped as best he could after Third Winchester and Fishers Hill. He also had been reinforced with an infantry division from the Army of Northern Virginia. Early planned to attack Sheridan somewhere near Harrisonburg on October 6.

    Young Meigs, first in his class at West Point in 1863 and son of the quartermaster-general of the Union Army, had been out checking troop placements in preparation for the withdrawal to Strasburg on the morning of October 6. Upon seeing three men in gum coats riding away from him and his two orderlies he became suspicious and pursued them. He paid with his life. It was erroneously reported that he had been ambushed by civilian bushwhackers.

    In retaliation for Meigs’ death, Sheridan ordered the town of Dayton and all the homes around the scene of the incident burned to the ground. As a result thirty houses near Dayton in Rockingham County were destroyed. The 5th New York Cavalry of Gen. George A. Custer’s Third Cavalry Division received the order to burn the houses, which many carried out reluctantly. Sheridan rescinded the order to destroy the town, but let stand the order to burn surrounding houses. Barns, mills, stables, corn-cribs, sheep sheds, and shops continued to burn on all sides.

    Two days after the conflagration, a civilian refugee train of 400 wagons left Harrisonburg for points north in hopes of surviving the coming winter. One woman who had three sons in the Confederate army left the Valley with her four daughters, aged thirteen to twenty-six. One of the daughters remembered, “We took a pillow case and put into it some flour and a few other ingredients for pancakes.” As they walked toward Harrisonburg, a Union wagon master came along with two wagons and took the ladies back to their home and loaded trunks and “two feather beds” into the wagons. They finally settled in Ohio.

    On the morning of October 6 the withdrawal to Strasburg began. That night local people remarked that it looked as if all the stars had fallen to earth because of the fires still burning in every direction. In Shenandoah County the wind picked up on October 7, and eighteen houses were destroyed by accident. From a hill near Mt. Jackson Union cavalrymen counted 168 barns burning at one time. When it was all over Sheridan’s men had systematically destroyed around 1,400 barns, countless other farm structures, seventy mills, several factories, three iron furnaces, warehouses and railroad buildings, and hundreds of thousands of bushels of wheat, oats and corn, and crops standing in the fields. In Rockingham County alone over 10,000 head of livestock were driven off.

    What did it all mean? It meant that a weakened Confederate cavalry would lose the Battle at Toms Brook on October 9 because horses and men had not eaten for three days while they followed in the path of destruction. Early would suffer defeat at the last significant battle in the Valley on October 19 at Cedar Creek partly because of the famished condition of his army. Supplies to Lee’s army and to Confederate armies farther south would slow to a trickle. Most important of all, the success of Sheridan’s actions would help reelect Abraham Lincoln, and America would finally take the first steps toward keeping the promises expressed at the founding of the nation.

    The Shenandoah Valley farms would blossom again with the help of family and friends living elsewhere and, oddly enough, by Northerners willing to invest in the new potential of the Valley after the war. By 1870 agricultural production rates were back to pre-war levels, the railroads had linked the Valley with strong markets to the north and east. In time, even those who should have been the most unforgiving of what Sheridan and his men had done in the Shenandoah Valley in the fall of 1864 came to realize its purpose. An ex-Confederate cavalry officer when asked about “The Burning” replied, “What is the worst in war, to burn a barn or kill a fellow man?””


  • Well, if Washington truly ordered Indian crops to be burned, it’s to his shame and infamy, although Custer and the federals would certainly applaud it, since they as little regard for Indian lives and property as they did for Southerners.

    Again, although the practice of pillaging civilian farms, towns, and property may be common, there is no moral justification for it in Catholic thought. In war, soldiers are supposed to fight soldiers, and it does not take a “neoconfed” to see a direct moral correlation between the destruction of civilian property in the Civil War and the destruction of Indian civilian populations after the war, and the destruction later wreaked upon helpless civilian targets of laughable “military” value like Dresden and Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Bad first principles usually result in very bad moral choices.

  • “Well, if Washington truly ordered Indian crops to be burned,”

    What do you mean “if” Tom, I’ve cited chapter and verse. But for Washington of course the United States likely would not exist. But for Lincoln the United States likely would not exist. The measures they took, as distressing as they are to 21rst Century arm chair moralists, they viewed as necessary to accomplish the great tasks that had been placed into their hands, and I am very happy that they did.

    “Again, although the practice of pillaging civilian farms, towns, and property may be common, there is no moral justification for it in Catholic thought.”

    Only if Catholic thought began in 1965 Tom. Papal armies down through the ages would have laughed at the restrictions that the de facto pacifists of the current post Vatican II Church seek to impose. The thoughts of Popes on war and peace took a very utopian turn after they no longer had the responsibility of waging and winning wars. Stanley Baldwin’s famous quote might equally apply to Churchmen and their attempts to set rules for conflicts they no longer wage:

    What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.

  • Yes, the Sullivan Expedition really happened, and it really burned out the Iroquois. But at least Tom acknowledges that it might be repellent. Most people who argue that the Civil War was somehow unique or the first time it ever happened in America ignore or shrug off the Expedition entirely.

    They also tend to ignore the Trail of Tears, too. Apparently, it’s only an atrocity if a northerner does it.

  • The Sullivan Expedition was in response to, and meant to prevent future, Iroquois/loyalist atrocities which had been visited upon PA and NY civilian farming communities which constituted the commissary of the Continental Army. The purpose was to save the nascent United States.

    The circumastances surrounding the depredations in Georgia, the Shanandoah Valley and South Carolina were reversed. The motive was to destroy the nascent Confederate States by ruthless, total war.

  • History is written by the victors. If Washington had lost, he and the signers of the Declaration of Independence likely would have been hanged, drawn, and quartered. In the history books, Benedict Arnold would be a hero, while Washington would be an arch-terrorist.
    The Brits and loyalists called 1777 the” year of the hangman.” They were confident they would suppress the Revolution and hang the traitors. The Iroquois/loyalists’ savage raids into NY/PA farming areas were part of the strategy. Then, the Rabble in Arms stopped them at Saratoga.

And Sheridan Twenty Miles Away

Monday, October 20, AD 2014

Thomas Buchanan Read was an artist and poet who served as a staff officer in the Civil War.  Inspired by Sheridan’s decisive victory at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, Read dashed off the poem, Sheridan’s Ride in an hour.  The poem was a sensation throughout the North.  To a war weary population, Cedar Creek was welcome proof that the seemingly endless War would soon end in Union victory.  Public performances were held throughout the North.   Republican rallies for the upcoming election featured readings of the poem with coconut shells used to mimic the sound of the horse’s hooves on the road.  The Cedar Creek sensation helped to re-elect Lincoln.

Here is a newspaper interview of Phil Sheridan on the poem which originally appeared in the Philadelphia Press:

“Boys, those of you who are not cowards follow me; for I’ll sleep in that camp tonight or I’ll sleep in Hell!”
That was the “terrible oath” the author of  “Sheridan’s Ride” referred to and it had the effect intended. The soldiers knew that “Little Phil” was frightfully in earnest, and there wasn’t a man in all the shattered army who wouldn’t share his bed. I asked General Sheridan the other day if he knew the author of the poem. 

“Yes” he replied, “I knew him well. I first met Mr. Read at the headquarters of Gen. Rosecrans, just before the battle of Stone River. He was a guest of the General, and remained in camp quite a while, so that we all got to know him.” 

“Do you know how he came to write the poem?”

 “Yes” said the General, “I have heard him tell about it several times. There has been a number of stories published about the origin of the poem, but I will tell you the true one, just as Mr. Read told it to me. Did you know that James E. Murdock suggested the idea?” 

“Murdock the elocutionist?”

 “The very man. He was an actor at one of the Cincinnati theaters at the time, where I had known him. Murdock has always been a great friend of mine, and I am glad to know the old man keeps so well. I see that he was able to appear at the memorial services in honor of Chief Justice Chase the other day. Murdock lost a son at the battle of Missionary Ridge – the boy was in my command and the old man came down to get the body, don’t you know? The enemy occupied the place where the boy was buried, and Mr. Murdock remained a guest at my headquarters until we recovered the ground. He used to ride the lines with me every day, and always used my black horse ‘Rienzi’ – the one that was afterward called ‘Winchester’ and the same that I had under me on that twenty mile canter. No man ever straddled a better animal, and old Murdock became very fond of him. He was a horse that it was an honor to mount, you see, and in that poem Read gave him a good sendoff.  

“Well” continued Sheridan, “things were very exciting down around Chattanooga those days, and Mr. Murdock saw a good deal of war. On Sundays he always used to recite poems to the troops around headquarters, and there was one of Browning’s that the boys never missed a chance to call for. It was a great favorite with me, don’t you know, just as it was with the soldiers, and we never let the old man off without reading it. It was the story of the ride from Ghent to Aix – you remember it.  

“Well, you see, after the battle of Cedar Creek, there was published in Harper’s Weekly a story of my ride from Winchester and a picture of me on the back of old Rienzi. Murdock had agreed to recite a poem at the Sanitary Fair that was being held at Cincinnati at that time, and Read had promised to write something new and appropriate for him. But when Murdock called on him for the manuscript the afternoon he was to recite, he hadn’t touched a pen to the paper – said he didn’t know what to write about. Well, Murdock had just seen a man who was in the battle, and was full of the story, being a friend of mine, you see; so he pulled the copy of Harper’s Weekly from his pocket, and repeated to Read all the officer had told him. Read jumped up, locked himself in his room, wrote the poem off-handed in an hour, got his wife to make a copy, and had it over to Murdock’s before dark. The latter was delighted with it, and read it at the Sanitary Fair that night.” 

“Where did you first see it?” 

The first I ever saw of it was in the newspapers. One of my officers brought it to my tent one morning in the camp down in the Shenandoah Valley.” 

“It is said that you have the original manuscript.” 

“I wish I had, but I have never seen it. I don’t suppose it is in existence. As I understand, it was originally written in pencil, and Mrs. Read copied it for Mr. Murdock.”

 “How did Read come to paint the picture of Sheridan’s Ride?”

 “Well, the poem made a great sensation, you know, and Read, being a painter as well as a poet, got a commission from the Union League Club of Philadelphia for the picture. They sent him down to New Orleans, where I was stationed, and I sat for him there. He was going to Rome that fall and did not finish it, but made some sketches and then completed the picture in Italy. I have never had a copy of the picture, but he afterward gave me the sketches, which I still have at my house.” 

“Who were with you on that ride?” 

“Sandy Forsythe, who is down in New Mexico with the Fourth Cavalry, and Colonel O’Keefe. The latter was killed at the battle of Five Forks.”

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October 19, 1864: Battle of Cedar Creek

Sunday, October 19, AD 2014


The last major battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War, it was fitting that the topsy turvy nature of the battle of Cedar Creek reflected the see-saw fights waged by the Union and the Confederacy for control of the Valley since the start of the War.

After his victories in the Shenandoah Valley in September, and his destruction of the most valuable agricultural regions in the Valley, Sheridan assumed that the War was at an end in the Valley for the winter, at least as far as major battles were concerned.  Delploying his 31,000 Army of the Shenandoah along Cedar Creek northeast of Strasburg, Viriginia, Sheridan felt secure enough, even with Early’s 21,000 Army of the Valley in the vicinity, to attend a conference with Grant in Washington on October 18.  On the evening of October 18 he slept at Winchester, twelve miles from his army.

Sheridan of course did not know that Early had received a letter from General Lee on October 12 urging him to attack.  Examing the Union position carefully, Early decided that an attack on the Union left, which relied for its security on natural obstacles might succeed, Early assuming correctly that the Union commanders would be more concerned about an attack from the west which was free of such obstacles.

The Confederates on the evening of October 18 in three columns made a night march against the Union left.  By 3:30 AM they were in position to laucher their attack.  The attack began at 5:00 AM in darkness and a thick fog.  Surprise was complete and the division sized Union Army of West Virginia which was at the far left of the Union force was quickly overwhelmed.  By 10:00 AM, Early had driven the seven Union divisions from the field, captured 1300 prisoners, taken 24 cannon, and his famished troops were feeding off Union supplies in the abandoned Union camps.  His troops seemed to have won an against the odds victory.  Then Sheridan arrived at the battlefield and changed everything.

At 6:00 AM pickets at Winchester reported that they heard the faint sound of artillery.  Not expecting an attack Sheridan thought nothing of it.  However he ordered his horse Rienzi to be saddled and after a quick breakfast he began at 9:00 AM to ride towards Cedar Creek.  The sounds of fighting became louder the closer approached and Sheridan realized a fight was in progress.  Sheridan was cheered by stragglers from the fight as he approached Cedar Creek.  Sheridan ordered the stragglers to follow him which most of them did, convinced that little Phil would bring them victory again.  Sheridan arrived at the battlefield at 10:30 AM.

Sheridan immediately began planning his counterattack.  Early had effectively lost control of his army due to the plundering of the Union supplies, and Sheridan had plenty of time to perfect his plan before he launched his attack at 4:00 PM.  The smaller Confederate force resisted for about an hour when its left began to crumble and the Confederates routed from the field.

Union casualties were 5,665 to 3000 Confederate.   Among the Confederate dead was Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who died the day after the battle in spite of the best medical care his Union captors could provide.  The day before the battle he had learned that his wife had borne him a daughter.  His last words were   “Bear this message to my precious wife—I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven.”  He was 27 years old.

The battle was decisive and Early’s army was no longer a threat to Union control of the Shenandoah.  The victory provided a great boost to the re-election campaign of Lincoln during the closing weeks of the campaign leading up to election day November 8.

Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle in his memoirs:

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September 21, 1864: Battle of Fisher’s Hill

Sunday, September 21, AD 2014

Fisher's Hill

After his defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, go here to read about it,  Early retired south to a strong position near Strasburg, Virignia, with his right anchored on the North Branch of the Shenandoah River, and his left on Fisher’s Hill, grandiloquently known during the Civil War as the Gibraltar of the Valley.  The position was a very strong one, but with only 10,000 men to cover four miles, Early did not have enough troops to man it adequately.

Sheridan with 29,000 men quickly decided that a frontal attack would be fruitless without a flank attack.  Crook was sent with his corps on an arduous march to flank the Confederate left on Fisher’s Hill.  Crook was in position to commence his attack at 4:00 PM on September 22, while Sheridan pressed Early from the front.  After some desultory fighting, the Confederate army routed.  Battle losses in dead and wounded were minimal, but 1000 Confederates were taken prisoner.  Early retreated to Waynesboro leaving Sheridan in undisputed control of the lower Valley, a control that Sheridan was going to use to destroy the granary of the Confederacy.

Here is Early’s report to General Robert E. Lee on the engagement:

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August 3, 1864: Lincoln to Grant

Sunday, August 3, AD 2014

Anti-Lincoln Cartoon

The gaunt man, Abraham Lincoln, lives his days.
For a while the sky above him is very dark.
There are fifty thousand dead in these last, bleak months
And Richmond is still untaken.
                              The papers rail,
Grant is a butcher, the war will never be done.
The gaunt man’s term of office draws to an end,
His best friends muse and are doubtful.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body


By the beginning of August 1864 Lincoln began to suspect that he was going to lose re-election and the Union was going to lose the War.  Grant, at an immense cost in blood, had pushed Lee back to Richmond and Petersburg, but both cities still were controlled by the Confederates and Lee’s army was still a force to be reckoned with.  The North was still reeling from Early’s victories in the Shenandoah, his daring raid on Washington and his burning of Chambersburg on July 30.  In the West the Confederate Army of Tennessee still clung to Atlanta, and the Confederacy still controlled almost all of its heartland.  The War seemed to be entering a stalemate, and if it remained so until November, Lincoln would be a one term president and the Union would be permanently sundered.  With that on his mind, Lincoln sent a warning telegram to Grant.  Lincoln never lost his faith in Grant, but clearly he wanted Grant to understand that unless victories were forthcoming the Union was in peril.  Ironically, in this telegram Lincoln approves Sheridan being place in command in the Shenandoah, and it was Sheridan’s string of victories in the fall that probably ensured Lincoln’s re-election:

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Sheridan, Hell and Texas

Friday, April 30, AD 2010

Earlier this week I referred in this thread to General Sheridan’s quip about Hell and Texas.  Here is the background story on Sheridan’s comparison of the Hot Place and the Hot State.

Phil Sheridan could be a nasty piece of work on duty.  A bantam Irish Catholic born in Albany, New York on March 6, 1831, to Irish immigrants, Sheridan carved a career in the Army by sheer hard work and a ferocious will to win.  He had a hard streak of ruthlessness that Confederates, Indians and the many officers he sacked for incompetence could attest to.    His quote, “If a crow wants to fly down the Shenandoah, he must carry his provisions with him.” after he ordered the burning of crops in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 to deny them to Confederate troops indicated just how hard a man he could be when waging war.

Off duty he was completely different.  He had the traditional Irish gift of gab and in social settings was charming and friendly.

After the Civil War he commanded an army of 50,000 troops in Texas to send a none-too-subtle hint to the French who had used the opportunity of the Civil War to conquer Mexico that it was time for them to leave.  The French did, with the Austrian Archduke Maximillian they had installed as Emperor of Mexico dying bravely before a Mexican firing squad.  During his stay in Texas Sheridan made his famous quip about Texas.  It was swiftly reported in the newspapers:

14 April 1866, Wisconsin State Register, pg. 2, col. 3:
GEN. SHERIDAN, after his recent Mexican tour, states his opinion succinctly and forcibly, as follows: “If I owned h-ll and Texas, I would rent Texas and live at the other place!”

“19 April 1866, The Independent, pg. 4:
But these states are not yet reduced to civil behavior. As an illustration, Gen. Sheridan sends word up from New Orleans, saying, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.” This is the opinion of a department commander.”

“15 May 1866, Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman (Boise, ID), pg. 7?, col. 3:
GEN. SHERIDAN does not have a very exalted opinion of Texas as a place of resident. Said he lately, “If I owned hell and Texas, I would rent Texas and live at the other place.” In former times, before Texas was “re-annexed,” Texas and the other place were made to stand as opposites. Thus, when Col. Crockett was beaten in his Congressional district, he said to those who defeated him, “You may go to hell, and I’ll go to Tex!” which he did, and found a grave.”

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30 Responses to Sheridan, Hell and Texas

  • He had a hard streak of ruthlessness … His quote, “If a crow wants to fly down the Shenandoah, he must carry his provisions with him.” after he ordered the burning of crops in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 to deny them to Confederate troops indicated just how hard a man he could be when waging war.

    In other words, Sheridan, like the rest of the “total warfare” marauders on Grant’s staff, was a war criminal. Maybe he’s “enjoying” the abode he so famously chose after all.

  • Well here we go on another refight of the Civil War. Couldn’t disagree with you more Jay. Burning the crops was a perfectly legitimate tactic of war. The Shenandoah Valley had served as the main supply source for Confederate forces in northern Virginia since the beginning of the War. Burning the crops vastly increased Lee’s supply woes and hastened the end of the War. As for the ultimate fate of Sheridan, if he went to Hell I am certain that there were quite a few Southern Fireeaters there to greet him for the part they played in starting a war in defense of slavery that the South was bound to lose.

  • I will be away from my computer at a Rotary District Conference until late on Saturday in the event that this thread explodes into the Second Civil War. When I return I will take up the cudgels for the Union Forever. 🙂

  • Don’t care to re-fight the war. Just pointing out that taking warfare to the civilian population – and I would assume the farmers in the Shenandoah Valley qualify as civilian population – violates Catholic teaching.

  • I was not born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. Before I lived her, I knew it would be hot, and plagued by mosquitoes. But between the heat, the mosquitoes and the hurricanes, I made a living out of it – just like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and others before me.

    I will admit, like any Texan, that it’s hot down here. It’s the plain and simple truth. But any Yankee who presumes to compare Texas with hell is full of it. That’s my humble opinion, sir.

  • I’ve been critical of some of the destrection wrought by Sherman, but I’m not informed enough to criticize Sheridan. Based on the above exchange I would have to agree with Don about the destruction of crops. That tactic is as old as time, was just as critical in seige warfare as was breeching a wall, and was widespread in Christendom. I am unaware of any condemnations of the practice by the Church.

    On the other hand, Sherman’s men indescriminately and deliberately burning civilian homes is another story.

  • During the War, the U.S. developed what was called the “Lieber Code” to govern what was, and was not, acceptable military behavior.



    While harsher in many respects than we now allow, it did ban torture and “wanton” destruction of property. Significantly, it permits destruction of property if “commanded by the authorized officer.” Article 44. And despite the noble words of Article 56, the Union’s treatment of its Confederate prisoners was as bad as anything at Andersonville. Worse, really–the Union had the material means to provide better for its prisoners.

    Not so by the way, Lieber thought of himself as a compiler/harmonizer, not an innovator. Thus, his Code is a kind of declaration of the law of war as it had developed up until his time.

    Be that as it may, the actions of Sherman and Sheridan rendered the wounds of the nation that much slower to heal.

  • With 27 years in the Army, and service in 2 combat zones, I don’t claim to be a hard-core combat vet, but I’ve seen enough to provide an informed perspective. Spare the enemy’s civilian support at the expense of your own soldier’s life in combat. Spare one in exchange of the other. On which side of the equation can you tolerate more death? Sherman is quoted as saying “war is hell” and a more accurate description would be hard to come by. A commander has to make incredibly difficult decisions. As an officer, I had to figure out how to kill the enemy and spare enough of my own soldiers in a way that would still allow me to reach heaven. There were excesses in Sheridan’s campaigns and Sherman’s march to the sea, to be sure. When my time comes, I’ll find out how God judged them.

    And, since I live in Texas, I can say I like what Crockett said. To paraphrase… if you don’t like Texas, you can go to the other place… I like it here just fine!

  • From the Civil War Preservation Trust website:

    … [Grant] sent Philip Sheridan on a mission to make the Shenandoah Valley a “barren waste”.

    In September, Sheridan defeated Jubal Early’s smaller force at Third Winchester, and again at Fisher’s Hill. Then he began “The Burning” – destroying barns, mills, railroads, factories – destroying resources for which the Confederacy had a dire need. He made over 400 square miles of the Valley uninhabitable. “The Burning” foreshadowed William Tecumseh Sherman’s “March to the Sea”: another campaign to deny resources to the Confederacy as well as bring the war home to its civilians.


    In an effort to force the Plains people onto reservations, Sheridan used the same tactics he used in the Shenandoah Valley: he attacked several tribes in their winter quarters, and he promoted the widespread slaughter of American bison, their primary source of food.

    (emphasis added)


  • For a sin to condemn a man to hell, he has to know it’s a sin and embrace it anyway.

    When I learn from reliable historical sources that Sheridan, prior to burning crops, queried the Vatican website or opened his copy of the Catechism, found teachings there not to his liking, and ignored them, I will then assume that he willfully committed mortal sin in the burning.


    My point is not merely that earlier generations found it more difficult, for purely technological reasons, to reliably know Church teaching on difficult topics when they arose.

    It is also that earlier eras have tended towards sins other than those towards which we tend. For of course one possible rejoinder to my wise-acre remark above would be, “But it’s obvious that burning crops would be sinful!” To you, maybe. But not to every Christian who ever lived in every era.

    If earlier eras were often without mercy, then our era is often without chastity and courage and industry. We look at them and wonder how they could have sunk to the level of burning crops. They look at us and wonder how we could have sunk to the level of producing and maintaining a trillion-dollar pornography industry to help us fill the hours when we aren’t watching American Idol.

    Anyhow, I hope Sheridan is in heaven after a fitting, but not interminable, purgation. And I think that hope is not improbable.

  • I certainly don’t hope or condemn Sheridan to hell. Not my place, so to speak. My comment was a tongue-in-cheek play on Sheridan’s own desire to live in hell rather than in my home state.

    As to the rest of your comment, taking warfare to the populace was controversial even in Sheridan’s time, and, as the link I provided indicates, he did far more to take the war to the populace than merely burn some crops.

    Especially in the example of what he did with regard to the plains Indians. You’d think an Irishman might have qualms about taking an action that forces the starvation of whole peoples.

  • Don’t mess with Texas.

    Here is a quote of General Sherman that provides timeless truth.

    “If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast.”

    Point of information, Mr. Anderson: At any moment, the Confederacy and the Plains Indian could have enjoyed peace and freedom. About 80% of the (thousands of) Indian warriors that massacred Custer and his battalion of the Seventh Cavalry had jumped their reservations (eating guvmint beef) for one last spree.

    Lo, the noble savage! Each Plains tribe had a “calling card” they left on the bodies of their victims. The Sioux would cut the (Marine?) corpses’ throats. Another tribe would cut stripes in the victims’ thighs. The Army told Custer’s widow his body hadn’t been defiled – white lie. And, if they captured an enemy, slow torture to death was de rigeur. The male Plains Indian was a warrior and hunter. It was all he did. He was the finest light cavalryman the world had seen since the Mongols and just about as gentle.

    The quicker the generals destroyed the Confederacy’s/Plains Indians’ means of waging war, the fewer combatants would die.

  • My favorite Sheridan quote is:

    “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”


    It is certainly nice to know that the good general’s genocidal tendencies were not restricted to Southern Rebels.

    Defending such actions by stating that they shortened fighting after starting such fighting after initiating aggression and invasion . . . well, let’s just start excusing Hitler and Stalin and Mao, and their ilk. By engaging in ruthless conduct they were just attempting to break the spirit of their enemies and thus bring resistance and additional deaths to a quick end. Like Sheridan, I doubt if any of these men had access to the Vatican web site or had a through understanding of Church teachings so we need to likewise excuse their ruthlessness since it was merely a product of their respective eras.

  • Of course Sheridan was not Stalin, Mao or Hitler and did not engage in the mass slaughter of civilians. Sheridan never said “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” That is a myth. If he had said it, the comment would have come as a vast surprise to his good friend General Ely Parker, a Seneca.

  • In the 1640’s, Oliver Cromwell treated Ireland in the same brutal way that Sheridan would treat his enemies. If Sheridan had some Irish blood in him, he ought to know better.

  • Unlike Cromwell Sheridan did not engage in the mass execution of civilians, especially Catholic priests, nor did he exile the Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley to West Virginia and resettle the land with loyal Unionists. Sheridan was 100% Irish, his parents both being immigrants from the land of Saints and Scholars.

  • The end does not justify the means. Cromwell thought his political/military goals were more important than human life. He did not care too much about the deaths he caused, because they were of a different religion, race or nationality than his own. In this regard, Cromwell and Sheridan are not too far apart from each other.

  • They are miles apart Centinel, as Cromwell’s actions at Wexford and Drogheda amply demonstrate and his policy of Hell or Connaught in expelling the native Irish to the west of Ireland, and if you don’t know that you truly don’t know either Old Ironsides of Little Phil.

  • Cromwell’s actions alone were a signal of the atrocities that were going to be committed in the French Revolution.

    He was ruthless, heartless, and amoral.

    Comparing him to Sheridan is character assassination of the worst order.

  • Sheridan burned the Shenandoah Valley to the ground and promoted the massacre of buffalo to starve the Indians. He caused the deaths of many people. He thought he was doing the right thing. His actions are unjustifiable.

  • Wrong again Centinel. Sheridan burned the crops of the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 in order to starve Lee’s army. He gave his troops specific instructions that the farm families were to be left sufficient food for personal use to get them through until the next harvest. Personal dwellings were not to be touched.

    In regard to the Indians, Sheridan applied the buffalo slaughter strategy to tribes that were at war with the US in order to have them go to reservations where they could have food. It worked very well at bringing the wars to a rapid close. The idea of course that a policy could have been adopted at the time that would have left the plains Indians free to roam the plains following Buffalo herds may appeal to people sitting at their computers in th 21rst century, but in the Nineteenth Century in the 1860s and 1870s that simply was not going to occur.

  • My pro-life values compel compel me to condemn warfare as Sheridan waged it. Sometimes a soldier must kill people, but the use of force must be:

    1. no more than necessary to achieve legitimate goals, and
    2. proportional to the evil that is being remedied or avoided.

    Once again, the end does not justify the means. Human life does not become expendable, merely because of one’s political/military goals. If one’s political/military goals conflict with innocent human life, one must give way to the other.

    I invite you to take a look at the map and see how big the Shenandoah Valley is. If Sheridan indeed left enough food for the farmers, that contradicts his boast of turning the Valley into a barren wasteland that a crow flying from one end to the other would need to bring its own provisions. That’s roughly 180 miles.

    Most of the time, the only justifiable wars are wars of self-defense and defense of others. Some of the Indian Wars may have been for self-defense, but the killing of civilians is seldom if ever justifiable.

  • “Once again, the end does not justify the means.”

    Usually said by someone who supports neither the means nor the end. I believe that the means taken by Sheridan in both the Civil War and the Indian wars were completely justifiable. I have no difficulty at all in distinguishing between abortion and denying sustenance to enemy forces.

  • Of course Sheridan was not Stalin, Mao or Hitler and did not engage in the mass slaughter of civilians. Sheridan never said “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” That is a myth. If he had said it, the comment would have come as a vast surprise to his good friend General Ely Parker, a Seneca

    Depends on what you consider a “mass slaughter” of civilians. It may not have been a mass slaughter to you but to those on the receiving end of the slaughter the number of others (Indians and Southerners) that died with them means very little.

    Secondly, you can deny what he said all you like but Sheridan did state that the only good Indians he knew were dead ones. He may have not used those exact words attributed to him but the ones he did use had the same meaning. Another example is Charlie Wilson and the quote “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA>” He never said that exact phrase but he said “[w]hat is good for the USA is good for General Motors and vise versa”, and this for all intents and purposes is the meaning of the quote attributed to him.

    Finally, I can’t believe you used the “some of his best friends were Indians” defense.

  • Compared to the attrocites the “Saxon” committed against Irish Catholics (from say 1560 to 1922), Sheridan and all the Indian fighters were gentler than “Mother Teresa.”

    The source quote, by an unnamed US Cavalry officer, was in general response to Eastern papers’ “lo the noble savage” tripe. He said, “The only good Indian I ever saw was dead.”

    The Saxon was far gentler to the Irish Catholic than the Democratic party is to 47,000,000 unborn babies they exterminate.

    Vilifying General Sheridan won’t get you into Heaven if you vote Democratic.

  • “Finally, I can’t believe you used the ‘some of his best friends were Indians’ defense.”

    *I* can’t believe anyone tried to compare Sheridan to Stalin, Hitler and Mao. Supporters of the lost cause should avoid the same victim-speak, hyperbole and morally-incoherent rhetoric deployed at public university ethnic studies departments. Sheridan’s conduct can be condemned on its own terms without resort to bankrupt analogies. Using such trivializes 20th century butchery and obscures what actually happened.

  • “Finally, I can’t believe you used the “some of his best friends were Indians” defense.”

    The mythic statement applied to Sheridan to the effect that the only good indian was a dead indian is refuted by Sheridan’s friendship with Parker, who, I might add, was Commissioner for Indian Affairs from 1869-1871 while Sheridan was in command in the West.

    Before commenting on historical figures and controversies it does help to have some basic knowledge about the individuals involved in them.

  • Nice try, fellas. The name of this blog is The American Catholic, but your position is not representative of the entire American Catholic population. I can count one regular and one guest contributor who have spoken up on this thread and they’re both pro-Sheridan.

  • Zounds, now he tells us! I always assumed that every position we take, even when contributors disagree vehemently with each other, was representative of all Catholics in the US. Thanks for straightening that out Centinel!

  • For that matter, the online calendar on this blog makes Monday look like the first day of the week. You Catholics should know better.