Friday, August 09, 2013

Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia: The Jaws of Defeat and Victory

The Battle of Cedar Creek: Victory From The Jaws of Defeat; Jonathan A. Noyalas, History Press, 125 pp., 32 illustrations, 3 maps, bibliographic notes, index, $19.99.

Fought October 19, 1864, Cedar Creek was the culminating battle of Confederate general Early's Shenandoah Valley Campaign. During the summer of 1864, the Army of Northern Virginia was being besieged at Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley had been invaded in May.  Lee sent the army's Second Corps under the command of Jubal Early to force the Federals from the valley and invade Maryland again for the third time.

Early drove the Federals out of the valley and advanced into Maryland during the first days of July.  Grant sent troops to Washington D.C. to turn back the threat and then a month later sent additional troops under the command of Philip Sheridan to again invade the Shenandoah Valley and thoroughly route Confederate forces there. After a defeat at Fisher's Hill during September, Early's army appeared to be routed.

The North Fork of the Shenandoah River, the 2,900 feet peak of Massanutten Mountain and the environs of Strasburg were shields to hide a dawn attack by Early's troops on October 19. During the dawn to noon fighting, seven Union infantry divisions were forced from their camps and retreat several miles.  Numerous prisoners and cannons were captured. The assault began to deteriorate after the capture of the camps and before the assault enter Middletown.

John Noylas' The Battle of Cedar Creek: Victory From The Jaws of Defeat is a fine, though brief, introduction to the battle. Those who are quite familiar with the engagement will note the minimal descriptions of Gordon's night march over the north side of Massanutten Mountain and of the construction of the Federal earthworks. Strengths of the book include the last two chapters. Chapter 5 describes the differences between the actual and culturally enhanced story of Sheridan's Ride. Chapter 6 describes the post-war gatherings on the battlefield of the veterans who had fought there. Two of the three maps are by Blake Magner and are clear and uncluttered. Noteworthy is Noyalas' reliance of soldiers' accounts of the fighting.

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