Rutherford B. Hayes Month
Hayes & the Civil War
Part VI: The Battle of Cedar Creek
Hayes called his years of military service during the Civil War the best years of his life. This now seven-part series in honor of his birthday will visit four locations associated with Hayes’ service to the Union.
The Battle of Cedar Creek took place on October 19, 1864. This was Hayes’ last combat, the battle that included ‘Sheridan’s Ride’, and a Union victory that many note signaled the end of major combat in the Shenandoah Valley and sealed Lincoln’s re-election.
Again, Hayes’s regiment is part of an Army led by U.S. Major General Phillip Sheridan to purse and defeat Jubal Early’s Confederate Corp. It is now October and they have been in pursuit and fighting in a series of battles and campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley since being called from West Virginia in July 1864.
At Cedar Creek approximately 32,000 Union men and 21,000 Confederates battle around the town of Middletown, VA where Early initiated a surprise attack. The Union was ultimately victorious. However after near defeat in the morning, it was Phillip Sheridan’s ride from Winchester some 17 miles north that rallied the troops in an afternoon counterattack and secured victory. (See previous post on Sheridan’s Ride.)
Hayes’ brigade however is generally only involved in the early part of the battle as they were one of the first forces under fire. They get decimated by the Confederates and have to retreat back north of the town of Middletown. They do give the Union enough time to vacate their headquarters at Belle Grove. Hayes is slightly injured in the battle and his horse is killed. Here is an excerpt from Hayes’ letter to Lucy, online at the Hayes Presidential Center:
CAMP AT CEDAR CREEK NEAR STRASBURG, VIRGINIA, October 21, 1864.
MY DARLING: . . . As usual with me I had some narrow escapes. While galloping rapidly, my fine large black horse was killed instantly, tumbling heels over head and dashing me on the ground violently. Strange to say I was only a little bruised and was able to keep the saddle all day. (Mem.:--I lost all my horse trappings, saddle, etc., including my small pistol.) I was also hit fairly in the head by a ball which had lost its force in getting (I suppose) through somebody else! It gave me only a slight shock. -- I think serious fighting on this line is now over.
Affectionately ever, your R.
For a more text-book description of the entire Battle of Cedar Creek, click here for the Civil War Preservation Trust’s (CWPT) battle summary and here for link to the battlefield map. And click here for a further summary of the battle from the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program.
I visited the Cedar Creek Battlefield as part of the Battle of Cedar Creek 145th Anniversary Reenactment on October 17 & 18th. This event, sponsored by the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, is held annually the weekend closest to the anniversary of the battle. I had never been to a reenactment before. There were a series of events that took place both days in addition to the battle reenactment which was only a portion of each day. One could walk around the camps, watch demonstrations, and attend lectures and a home tour. The main event of Saturday (when it rained) was the first part of the battle which included the Confederate attack. Sunday afternoon (which was overcast) included the Union counterattack.
The Heater House
Views of Cedar Creek Camps
Belle Grove Plantation – The Isaac Hite family home, his first wife was Nelly Madison, James Madison’s sister. It is a National Historic Landmark and a National Trust property.
The view south from Belle Grove
Ramseur Monument – Remember Ramseur?
To view MANY more photos of my photos from the Battle of Cedar Creek 145th Anniversary Reenactment, click here. To view more photos from the Belle Grove Plantation, click here.
Cedar Creek is fighting the encroachment of nearby development, including a massive mining operation that is about to expand. Click here for a fantastic video on the battle and the threats it now faces. Currently over 1,450 acres are protected in the area through various partnerships in the Cedar Creek Battlefield and Belle Grove National Historic Park, established in 2002.
The Cedar Creek Battlefield though continues to fight threats to its preservation and was listed as one the 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields in 2009 by the Civil War Preservation Trust. Read about the entire list here and how you can help.
Part VII: Conclusion
Raise the Rutherford! is a continuing, slightly humorous series to raise awareness of Rutherford B. Hayes and erect a statue of him in Cincinnati.
The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center
Including the Dairy and Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes
Civil War Preservation Trust
National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program
Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation
Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation
Belle Grove Plantation