Witnessing History: A Buckeye and Sheridan’s Ride at Cedar Creek

     Andrew Langley and his comrades in the 91st Ohio were guarding a herd of army cattle at the Federal camp on Cedar Creek on an otherwise humdrum Wednesday morning in October 1864 when they were startled awake by the sounds of battle erupting to their south.  Jubal Early’s army struck hard and early, driving back Colonel Joseph Thoburn’s Federal division out of its camp, and starting a stampede. “The First Division ran through our camp which was aroused by this time. The Rebs at the same time charged into the camp of the 19th Army Corps. We just got up and dusted without any breakfast. Our regiment, being the cattle guards, had a little start of the rest. We just made the cattle fly through the fields. We fell back three miles before we could get a chance to form a line,” Langley remembered.

As the 91st Ohio reorganized, Langley saw one of the most inspiring sights of Civil War lore, General Phil Sheridan arriving on the field at the end of his famous ride. “We met General Sheridan at Newtown; he was coming from Winchester as hard as his horse could go. He stopped and asked a few questions and told us to go three miles father, halt, and form a line to stop stragglers. He then started on saying he would drive the Rebs back or die,” Langley wrote.

The 91st Ohio, raised in the southeastern corner of the state, mustered into service in August 1862 and had spent much of the war in the mountains of western Virginia. In the spring of 1864, it moved into the Shenandoah Valley along with the rest of General George Crook’s Army of West Virginia. At Cedar Creek, the regiment served in Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin F. Coates Second Brigade of Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes Second Division. Private Langley’s letter was published in the November 10, 1864 edition of the Gallipolis Journal.


 

Sheridan's Ride as depicted in this chromolithograph by Thure de Thrulstrup printed by Louis Prang and Co. in 1886. Andrew Langley of the 91st Ohio was among those who cheered Sheridan upon his arrival at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. 

Camp near Cedar Creek, Virginia

October 21, 1864

 

Dear father,

          I suppose before this reaches you, you will have heard of the great battle of the 19th instant but thinking that probably a few lines from me will allay your uneasiness at home, I’ll begin. The Rebs, 15,000 strong under the command of General Jubal Early, surprised us in camp before daylight on the morning of the 19th by a part of them dressing in our uniforms and relieving our skirmishers who thought they were the relief. They were then taken prisoners and the Rebels marched in line of battle into the First Division of our command [Thoburn’s Division] and captured one battery which they then turned on the camp and charged at the same time, waking the boys up, capturing, or killing them.

This raised a stampede. The First Division ran through our camp which was aroused by this time. The Rebs at the same time charged into the camp of the 19th Army Corps. We just got up and dusted without any breakfast. Our regiment, being the cattle guards, had a little start of the rest. We just made the cattle fly through the fields. We fell back three miles before we could get a chance to form a line. We had done it and checked the Rebels who by this time had captured 26 pieces of our own artillery that were playing on us.

The surprise at Cedar Creek as depicted by the National Tribune in 1893 shows Early's Confederates storming into the Federal camps. 

The 91st Ohio kept going until we met General Phil Sheridan at Newtown; he was coming from Winchester as hard as his horse could go. He stopped and asked a few questions and told us to go three miles father, halt, and form a line to stop stragglers. He then started on saying he would drive the Rebs back or die. He came to the front and rode along the lines, telling the boys to fear nothing, stand firm, and he would make the enemy sleep on their own side of the creek that night, if they slept at all! The boys cheered all along the line, long and loud. He rode with his cap off, the shot and shell flying thick and fast about him, but none struck him.

 

 “General Sheridan came up at a swinging gait. The gallant, coal-black steed was flecked with foam. His quick eye took in the situation at a glance. Reining his horse before our Colonel, he asked almost indignantly why this regiment was going to the rear in good order and the fields black with fugitives. ‘Well,’ said Major Cadot, ‘my regiment has been detached for weeks and I was ordered to take the regiment and drive the cattle to Winchester.’ General Sheridan replied, ‘All right, use two companies for that purpose and take the balance of your regiment and drive the stragglers back into battle!” ~ Private John H. Prather, Co. E, 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry

 

Major Lemuel Cadot sent two companies on to Winchester with the cattle and started to the front with about a brigade of stragglers. We got up in time to see the fun. About 2 o’clock, the Rebel lines began to waver. The cavalry was ordered to charge the Rebel position which was behind a stone fence. They were repulsed twice. The infantry then charged with a line of artillery and started them. The cavalry was then let in and the fun commenced.

In the meantime, General William H. Powell’s division of cavalry  went up the Luray Valley and came into the Shenandoah at Brown’s Gap. They got into the Rebel works at Fisher’s Hill and laid there until we drove them across Cedar Creek when they attacked them in the rear. This caused them to take to the mountains on each side. They had to leave their artillery and wagon trains. The cavalry is still pushing them. The captures up to this time are 5,000 prisoners, 54 pieces of artillery (besides what they took from us) and about 200 wagons and ambulances with all their horses and drivers. The loss on both sides in killed and wounded is about 10,000.

Lt. Col. Benjamin F. Coates
91st O.V.I.


We camped that night on the same spot we occupied in the morning. Next morning, we found that most of our dead were stripped to the skin. Several were beat to death after being wounded. The prisoners were taken to Sheridan’s headquarters to be examined. Everything they had pertaining to our uniform and everything belonging to our soldiers were taken from them. They grumbled considerably at this manner of proceeding. Some of them had to do without pants, others without coats. You see that when they came to one of our men that had good clothes (and there were a great many as we drew clothing the day before), they just pulled off their lousy clothes and appropriated those that were on the dead.

Yesterday morning was very cold, and I went down to the Rebel ambulance train (the Rebs still driving them) and I saw one thieving-looking Rebel wrapped up in two large blankets and looking very comfortable. There was one cavalryman to every team for a guard. I stepped on the other side and told Mr. Reb I would trouble him for those blankets. He asked me if I wasn’t joking. I then reached for his neck and he found I was in earnest. So, he handed me the blankets without another word. I just got away in time to escape the guard. The consequence was that I slept very comfortable last night.

I think the campaign is over unless Early or some other lousy Rebel General sees fit to bring us down some more artillery, in which case we will receive it. The cavalrymen are beyond New Market still picking up prisoners. I also captured a fresh supply of Staunton tobacco.

Sources:

Letter from Private Andrew W. Langley, Co. B, 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Gallipolis Journal (Ohio), November 10, 1864, pg. 1

“Sheridan’s Ride,” by Private John H. Prather, Co. E, 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, National Tribune, June 13, 1901, pg. 3

91st Ohio regimental colors


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