Union General Philip Sheridan averts a near disaster in the Shenandoah Valley when he rallies his troops after a surprise attack by Confederate General Jubal Early and scores a major victory that almost destroys Early’s army at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia.
Through the summer of 1864, Early moved his army with impunity around the Shenandoah and its surrounding area. Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant dispatched Sheridan to take care of Early’s army, which was distracting Grant and preventing him from applying the full pressure of the Union army against the forces of Robert E. Lee around Petersburg, Virginia. Sheridan performed his task well, defeating Early at Winchester, Fischer’s Hill, and Tom’s Brook. By mid-October, Sheridan’s troops were busy destroying the rich harvest of the Shenandoah to deny food supplies to Lee’s army.
Sheridan departed for a military conference in Washington, D.C., and before he returned, Early launched a devastating attack on the surprised Yankees at Cedar Creek. Throughout the morning of October 19, the Rebels drove the Union troops back more than three miles. By late morning, Early slowed the attack despite the urgings of General John B. Gordon, who insisted that Early press his assault to achieve total destruction of the Federal force. Returning from Washington, Sheridan heard the battle from Winchester and began a furious, 12-mile ride to the front. Along the way, he met his retreating soldiers and turned them back toward the battle for a counterattack. This effort, which was later called Sheridan’s Ride, became legendary.
After Early cut off his assault, an eerie silence settled on the battlefield. Sheridan orchestrated his counterattack by late afternoon, and it was devastating. The Yankees tore through the Confederate lines and sent Early’s army in retreat. Sheridan lost 5,500 out of 31,000 troops. Early lost almost 3,000 of the 22,000 men in his command, but nearly all of the Confederate artillery was captured in the Union counterattack. It was the last major battle in the Shenandoah campaign, and Early was never able to mount a serious offensive again.