Battle of Cedar Creek

The battle of Cedar Creek was a milestone in the Shenandoah Valley campaign but we simply call it Cedar Creek.

While the battle did not take place in Prince William County, it is one our annual re-enactment events, and its place in the Civil War history of Virginia has become as prominent and familiar as that of New Market, Spotsylvania or Chancellorsville.

During the Civil War Sesquicentennial, we are participating in every major commemorative event held in the state.

The Battle of Cedar Creek re-enactments are even more important since it was discovered that several of our ancestors participated in theShenandoah Valley campaign.

It is written that the Battle of Cedar Creek, which stretched over two days in the autumn of 1864, was one of the most remarkable battles of the Civil War both in it's brutality and tactical strategies reminiscent of Jackson at Chancellorsville.

Although it ended with a victory for the Union Army, the battle of Cedar Creek started with a surprise attack. Albeit a "thin grey line", General Jubal Early's forces attacked before daylight, in an October mountain mist, after crossing the Shenandoah River. Ever heard a real rebel yell?

Union troops, asleep at the time, were totally unprepared for the attack.

After reading many accounts of the battle of Cedar Creek, this poem by William Henry Harrison Polhamus, a veteran of the Second Ohio Cavalry, best expresses the events of October 18-19, 1864 at Cedar Creek. It is only a poem but the mental picture left by the words leave nothing to the imagination and carry the reader directly to that fall morning in the Valley.

The Battle of Cedar Creek: A Poem by W.Polhamus

Confronting each other like tigers at bay. 
Two war-battered armies in grim silence lay, 
'Crost the Shenandoah Valley that October day. 
These veterans were all that that word can imply; 
And as brave as the bravest of men. 

When duty demanded, they feared not to die, 
But faced the dread monster with colors flung high. 
And a firm martial tread and undaunted eye 
They had done it again and again.

The flower of this nation met there that day, 
In that army in blue and army in gray. 
And took their position in battle array.

Of every advantage each sought to make most, 
And wheel'd into their places full soon ; 
But as evening closed in, 'round each battle-scar'd host, 
And drew down its shades, with the stealth of a ghost. 
All semblance of enmity seemed to be lost,
While they slept 'neath a pale waning moon. 
There, prone on the ground, 'neath the stars of the night.
Lay the sturdy and brave in dream -visions bright. 
Nor reck'd what might come, ere the dawn's early light.
" Twelve o'clock and all's well," the sentinels say. 
And the answering call comes again ; 
But look ! From their right, a long column in gray, 
'Round our union left-flank, is feeling its way 
To a bend in the river that to our rear lay, 
By a bridle-path rugged and dim.

With that feat accomplished, the stream is soon crossed 
By these daring rebels, who take up their post 
At a point where they hope to harm us the most. 
Then charge on the lines of our slumbering men, 
Who hurriedly rise to their feet, 
And an unequal contest wage with great vim, 
'Gainst the on-coming foe, but darkness and din. 
Confusion of orders, and ranks growing thin. 
Compel their reluctant retreat. 
A battery hailing from some place ""out West," 
Disrobed for the night, and were found thus un-dressed, 
When Early invaded our lines on the left. 
A fierce rebel yell the still morning air rent, 
And told that the foemen had come : 
With clothing abandoned, but purpose intent, 
A scene from " Black Crook "" to the drama was lent 
While these boys tried hard to explain what they meant, 
But spoke through the mouths of their guns.

Our left being broken, fall sullenly back.
With dead and dying bestrewing their track. 

But give blow for blow to the ones that attack.

Shot and shell, grape and shrapnel are filling the air, 
Ere the earliest streak of the dawn ; 
While the rattle of drums and the trumpet's wild blare, 
And resounding of arms can be heard every-where ; 
And the swift charging columns are seen here and there,
By the flash of each hot panting gun. 
The fight became general along the whole way 
From North Mountain pike to the vale of Luray, 
Before the sun rose o'er the hill-tops that day. 
On the right and right-center the battle was With a valor no mortal can tell ; 
In hand to hand struggles they fiercely engaged. 
Surpassing the fury of lions uncaged, 
And charged back and forth in their unbridled rage. 
While brave men like autumn leaves fell.

Our left, and left-center, are fast losing ground ; 
Their guns have been taken, their lines are swept down 
Before that wild whirl-wind, whose zeal knows no bound. 
Some break for the rear in the wildest dismay. 
While others seem losing their head. 
As generals and staff in the broad light of day, 
Leave others to care for themselves as they may, 
And ride from the field, swiftly making their way 
To join with the rest that have fled.

The sight was appalling to those who remained 
And struggled so bravely their lines to maintain 
Against such great odds, on that gore slippery plain. 
The ground was all furrowed with shot and with shell, 
And garnished with wounded and dead ; 
That lay in profusion, the story to tell. 
Of hail which swept hill-side, and woodland, and dell. 
Till that gory field seemed one mighty page fell 
Ruled thick with the blue and the red.

The rebels elated at what they have done. 
Brave all opposition and swiftly rush on, 
Till they come to the Sixth Corps ; stalwart and strong. 
Then like huge ocean billows that sweep the low shore. 

But break on the reefs they submerge. 
Receding in haste, to repeat o'er and o'er, 
The mad, hopeless conflict the same as before, 
They mass whole divisions, which steady and sure, 
Come charging in surge upon surge. ....

But here in conclusion permit me to say.
That whoever took part in that battle that day,
Whether wearing the blue or wearing the gray. 

Will never forget Cedar Run.

Civil War History Lives Today

History lives this day in Middletown, Virginia. Civil War history.

Several of our ancestors participated in the Shenandoah Valley campaign wearing Union Blue.

Today, their 4th great-grandson, a son of Virginia, is wearing Confederate Gray during this re-enactment.

Be sure to visit the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation Facebook page.

Early morning at the Cedar Creek Reenactment - October 2012Early morning at the Cedar Creek Reenactment - October 2012

  1. Home Page
  2.  ›
  3. Civil War Timeline
  4.  ›
  5. Cedar Creek