The History of the 3rd Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry

Cedar Mountain Revisited

hinkley_01On the morning of July 4, 1888, I took a train on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad at Washington, and went to the old town of Culpepper Court House, on my way to visit the battlefield of Cedar Mountain, or, as the Confederates call it, Slaughter's Mountain, because it is on the farm of the Rev. Philip Slaughter. From Culpepper we drove over the same hot and dusty road that some of you will remember marching over on that August day in 1862. We drove to the house of Colonel Throckmorton, an ex-Confederate soldier, who lives upon a portion of the battlefield, and by him were shown around and the places of interest pointed out. The battle was fought mainly on the farm of Mr. Crittenden, one of whose daughters married Colonel Throckmorton, and they have lived there since the war in a house built in the woods, just in rear of the Confederate troops we assaulted when in the old bushy field. One of the objects I had in going there was to get a correct idea of the topography of the field and see if the various accounts of the battle, as told by different participants, could be reconciled, and in that I succeeded. From my observations made that day and a study of the various reports and letters written by participants in the battle, of both armies, to Mr. H. A. Tripp of the 10th Maine Infantry, the following description of the battle is written and I believe it to be quite correct. It was not a great battle in the sense we commonly speak of great battles.l The numbers engaged were small compared to Antietam or Gettysburg, but for gallantry displayed and losses sustained during the short conflict, it has hardly a parallel in the annals of war. Those of you who were there on that August afternoon will always remember it, and those of you who were not there I hope to interest in this description of the battle:

On the 26th of June, 1862, all the troops in Virginia not under the immediate command of Gen. McClellan, were consolidated under the command of Major-General Pope and named the Army of Virginia. Soon after this the movement was begun to bring McClellan's army from the James River to Washington. This released the Confederate army at Richmond, and General Lee determined to destroy the army of Gen. Pope before McClellan's army could be united with it, and in pursuance of that object Gen. Thomas J., otherwise known as Stonewall Jackson, was moving upon Culpepper with about twenty thousand men, having learned that only a small part of Pope's army was there, which he hoped to destroy before they could all be concentrated. The First Brigade of our Division, which had been at Culpepper several days, was sent out on the 8th of August to the vicinity of Cedar Mountain, while Banks and Siegel were ordered to move their commands to Culpepper. Banks moved at once, but owing to the heat and dust we did not reach Culpepper until eleven at night, and Siegel's corps not until later the next afternoon.

At ten o'clock on the morning of the 9th, the remainder of General Bank's corps was sent forward to join Crawford's brigade near Cedar Mountain, about eight miles distant, southwest. The day was extremely hot (it had been hot weather for weeks previously), and many men were sunstruck even on that short march, and others were less seriously overcome and were scattered under the trees by the wayside. Gordon's brigade, to which we belonged, was placed into position about half a mile to the right of the road and just north of Cedar Run. The brigade of Gen. Crawford was in the woods, on each side of the road, about a half a mile from us, and the division of Gen. Auger was placed in position to the left of the road.

banks_01The corps of General Banks (right) consisted of five brigades, but from these brigades there were absent the garrisons of Winchester and Front Royal and other detachments, so that not one half the corps was present on the field. General Gordon, in his "Second Mass. and Stonewall Jackson," gives Gen. Banks' numbers: infantry and artillery, at 6,289, and cavalry force of ten or twelve hundred. This, from all the evidence obtainable, would seem to be a fair estimate. On the other side the Confederate army of Stonewall Jackson consisted of thirteen brigades on the field. Col. Walter H. Taylor, in his "Four Years with Gen. Lee," places Jackson's army at 18,623. Mr. Thomas White, who was chief clerk in the Army of Northern Virginia, increases this to 21,500, and Col. Wm. Alden, chief of ordnance to Jackon's corps, places Jackson's force at 23, 823, of which two brigades were not present. We know that eleven of their brigades figure in the reports of their losses.

It is difficult to get a clear idea of this battle without a thorough understanding of the topography of the field, and I was never able to reconcile the many conflicting, or apparently conflicting, statements of those who were participants, until I went there and looked over the ground myself. The general direction of the road from Culpepper, by which I approached the battlefield, is a little west of south. At the crossing of Cedar Run it makes a considerable angle to the west and continues to curve westward along by the wheatfield, until at the point where the Confederate line was formed along the crossroad extending towards Mrs. Crittenden's house, the road then runs nearly due west. A few yards beyond this crossroad the roads fork, the right hand road leading to Madison Court House and the left to Orange Court House; at the intersection of the roads is a schoolhouse. The advance of the Confederate army from Gordonsville reached the forks of the road by the schoolhouse at one o'clock. One brigade with a battery was sent to occupy the slope of Cedar Mountain; the others were posted in succession as they arrived, from their right to left. General Winderk, in command of Jackson's old division, was killed by a shell while posting his batteries near the crossroads and General Taliaferro took his place. At five o'clock, when the battle opened in earnest, the Confederate line was formed in the general direction from south to north, as follows: On their right was Ewell's division of three brigades, extending up the sides of Cedar Mountain, where they had batteries placed. Next, to the north of Ewell, were two brigades of Taliaferro's division. These extended the line to the Culpepper road and eastward along the side of the road a few rods and then northward, at right angles to it, along the fence on the west side of the wheatfield. The troops facing the wheatfield were the 48th and 42nd Virginia and the 1st Virginia Irish batallion. About 4:30 P. M., one of the brigades of Hill's division was sent to reinforce the division of General Ewell. The 10th Virginia regiment was sent to the north side of the road and placed on the left of the Irish battalion, at the edge of the wheatfield. About five o'clock P. M., the battery on the south side of the road, and others along the line and on the mountain side, were firing rapidly, while the old Stonewall brigade, commanded by Colonel Ronald, was moving forward and to the left, with the 5th, 2d and 4th Virginia regiments deployed, and the 27th and 33rd Virginia regiments somewhat to the rear of them. Pender's brigade of Hill's corps was a little in the rear and farther to the left of the last mentioned regiments, but coming up to extend their line still farther to the north.

On our side of the field General Gordon had sent Colonel Ruger with the six companies, K, F, D, I, C and H (3rd Wisconsin), to deploy as skirmishers, covering the front of the brigade and advancing into the woods on the north of the wheatfield. We advanced into the woods to within about 100 yards of the field and there halted for some time, while Lieutenant Slagg, taking a few men with him, went forward to the edge of the field to reconnoiter.

While we were waiting here three regiments of Crawford's brigade, the 5th Connecticut, 28th New York and 46th Pennsylvania, in the order named from left to right, came into the woods from the Culpepper road, the 46th Pennsylvania extending through our skirmish line so that their right was near the reserve of Company D, in rear of the skirmish line and facing the southwest. After staying there a few minutes they changed direction so as to face the south and moved forward out of sight into the woods. The underbrush at this place was very dense and a person was completely hidden a few yards distant. It was nearly five o'clock in the afternoon and Lieutenant Colonel Crane and myself were standing together in the shade, close to an old wood road which leaves the Culpepper road near Cedar Run and passes around the northwest corner of the old abandoned or bushy field, when Captain Wilkins, General William's Adjutant General, came riding along the road and stopped to talk with Colonel Crane. He said that General Auger was meeting with considerable success on the left, and the General Crawford thought if Colonel Ruger's six companies would form on the right of his brigade and make a charge on the battery which we heard firing in our front, that the day would be ours, and he was looking for General Banks to get the orders for this to be done.

General Ruger states in his report that General Crawford ordered him to join forces for making a charge, and he replied that he was there by order of his own brigade commander and suggested that before detaching him from his brigade it should be sanctioned by superior authority. This order was brought to Colonel Ruger by Captain Wilkins soon after.

General Crawford reports that he sent a staff officer to General Banks to have the artillery fire stopped on the field he was ordered to cross, and then taking off his coat and sword he crawled through the woods to the wheatfield to reconnoiter. He says in his report:

"I found the opposite woods filled with the enemy's infantry in my front as well as two acres of chincapin bushes directly on my right. Before me, from the skirts of the woods, stretched a wheatfield with the wheat in shocks, a distance of 300 yards, to the opposite woods. It was down a gentle slope, to a small marshy run that skirted the opposite woods. At the point of the woods on the main road was the battery of the enemy. I sent back to General Banks for a section of brass guns in order that I might shell the opposite woods and shake the enemy's infantry. he sent me back word that it was the decisive movement of the day and that I must move at once."

He then puts on his coat and sword and moves. He says: "I found my command and moved forward to the fence, which I had to take down in full view of the enemy." Without waiting for the six companies of the 3d Wisconsin to assemble and form on his right, the three regiments of Crawford's brigade fix bayonets and charge across that wheatfield on the run. General Crawford does not go with them; they are led by a fitter leader for brave men, Colonel Dudley Donnelly of the 28th New York. The distance between them and the enemy was less than 200 yards, and they quickly passed over it. The Confederates behind the fence, on the west side of the field, were watching the advance of the Ohio brigade of General Geary, in the cornfield to the south of the road, and did not realize their own danger. Lieutenant Smith of the 28th New York says: "We pushed the fence over on them, which was the first warning they had." The 1st Virginia was broken and was not again rallied. The 10th Virginia held the 46th Pennsylvania a very short time, when they were compelled to retire. The 5th Connecticut encountered the 42d Virginia; Colonel Garnett ordered Colonel Lane of the 42d Virginia to change front to meet this attack, but Lane is killed before he can give the order, and his regiment follows the example of the 1st Virginia and goes to the rear in confusion and disorder. There is at this time no regular order in the charging line, but the men are pushing for the battery in the field. They leave the 48th Virginia to their left and rear and approach unseen within twenty paces of the 21st Virginia. The first salutation these Confederates get is a murderous fire from the rear. Their Lieutenant Colonel commanding is mortally wounded, and they too are sent after the others, while the 48th Virginia, left without support on either flank, follow them. All semblance of order in the charging line is now lost, but they push on after the routed Confederates until the battery is reached, Adjutant Sprout of the 28th New York being killed by the side of one of the guns. The three brigades, Campbell's, Taliaferro's and Early's, were retreating to the rear, when the shouts from some Federal soldiers who had not crossed the road, drew their attention to some fresh troops advancing. These were the Stonewall brigade. As before explained, these Confederate regiments were coming from the west, while Crawford's men were moving south. At the approach of this new danger Crawford's brigade recross to the north side of the road and there receive the enemy with such a volley that the 27th Virginia is broken and retreats, while the 33d Virginia stops until Bunch's North Carolina brigade comes to their assistance. The 5th, 2d and 4th Virginia continue to move forward until the right of the 5th Virginia rests in the wheatfield, the line extending northwesterly across the old bushy field, into the woods beyond, when Colonel Ronald sent word to Major Williams, commanding the 5th Virginia, to fall back and connect his line with the 33d Virginia, which was fighting the remnants of Crawford's brigade.

We will now leave them there and follow the fortunes of the 3d Wisconsin for a time. When Colonel Ruger received the order to assemble his regiment and join Crawford the regiment was deployed on a line five hundred yards long. The order was passed along to assemble on the third company and when assembled we moved a little to the right; here Colonel Ruger told the men that there was a battery to be taken, that the honor of the regiment was in their hands and they were not to cheer or yell until the rebels broke, and then to go in and do their best. The command was then given, "Forward!" and in a minute, "Double quick!" We quickly reached the edge of the woods where there was a high rail fence, the ranks much disordered from marching double quick through the woods, still more broken by climbing the fence, but with the instinctive habit of drilled soldiers they reformed before going many yards. The right of our regiment got into a thicket of blackberry briars in the woods, which hindered them somewhat, so that the left was the first over the fence. As I stepped upon the fence to get over it, I looked for the battery which we were to take, and could plainly see it not 300 yards distant in the direction of Cedar Mountain, which was perhaps three-fourths of a mile distant. Between us and the battery was a long line of Confederate troops, which we now know were the 5th, 2d and 4th Virginian regiments, whose movements we have heretofore sketched. The little bushy field where we then were, is 125 yards across it, and the Confederates were entering it at almost the same moment that we were, so that it seemed to us as though they arose from out of the ground. The right of the 5th Virginia extended into the wheatfield which Crawford's brigade had just crossed, and were at that instant of time actually between us and the remnant of Crawford's brigade, which was then fighting with the 27th and 33d Virginia. Their left extended into the old bushy field where we were. The 2d Virginia was wholly in the field and part of the 4th Virginia was close upon the right flank of our regiment, but were screened from us by the trees and bushes. I well remember seeing the puffs of smoke as they fired from the woods, not twenty yards from the right of Captain Hawley's company. Captain Moore of the 2d Virginia says that we wheeled to the right after we came into the field, but this movement was only an apparent one, for no such orders were given, but the right of the regiment was held back by the obstructions and did not advance so far into the field as the left. The Confederate officers say that we fired first, but I am very sure that no man near me fired a shot until we had received a volley from them, which was the most destructive fire that I experienced in the whole course of the war. Colonel Ruger reported that we went into this action with 267 men and confronting us were three regiments. We know that the 5th Virginia had 519 muskets in line, and Captain Moore of the 2d Virginia says he had 60 men in his company, so there is no doubt that we had at least 1,500 men opposed to us. Major Williams speaks of our regiment as being a strong skirmish line which they drove back. A fight of this kind could be but of short duration, and those of us who did not get back into the woods without orders were very soon ordered there. Captain Hawley of Company K was one of the first men wounded, and I saw him limping off the field. Captain Bentley of F was crawling back on his hands and knees, but I think he was not wounded. Colonel Ruger was mounted on a nervous roan horse that kept him busy trying to stay on its back, at the same time he rode from the left to the right of the regiment and back again in his efforts to hold the line steady. It hardly seemed a minute before all of Company K and nearly all of F were back again in the woods, when Captain O'Brian of Company I told me that the Colonel said we were to go back into the woods. I was talking with General Ruger about this only a few years ago, and he said he did not give such an order, but whether he did or not we went back with our companies, and so did Companies C and H, and I have always been of the opinion that we stayed too long in that field. More than one third of the men in the three right companies were either killed or wounded in the short time we were there.

A portion of the regiment went back through the woods nearly to Cedar Run, where they rallied and reformed. The rest followed Captain O'Brian along the wood road to a little ravine that is about a hundred yards from the edge of the wheatfield and there halted and reformed. At this place I helped Captain O'Brian bind up his wounded thigh with a handkerchief, to staunch the blood which had run down and filled his shoe, but notwithstanding this severe wound he went back into the fight again and was mortally wounded. I am sure that nearly all of Companies D and I were there,

Let us now see what the rest of our brigade was doing. Colonel Andrews of the 2d Massachusetts says:

"Pretty late in the afternoon, so late that I began to think the battle over for that day, a heavy fire of musketry suddenly began where I supposed Crawford was. Soon after this an aid of General Williams brought an order to General Gordon to advance to the support of Crawford. The order was immediately given to me to move forward with my regiment and was obeyed as promptly as possible."

cedar_mt_mapColonel Andrews further says he was first sent towards the left until he reached the Run, and then was ordered to the right where the rest of the brigade had gone, which had by this time got considerable the start of him. The 27th Indiana had the right of the line, next, with considerable interval, the three left companies of the 3d Wisconsin which had not yet been engaged, and then with a larger interval there came the 2d Massachusetts and the company of Collis' Zouaves. The six companies of the 3d Wisconsin which had been reformed were brought up and placed in line between the left of the 27th Indiana and the three companies which had not been engaged. From a careful examination of the ground made when I visited the field in 1888, I think that this time we were about 300 yards to the left or east of where we were first engaged when in the old bushy field, and here for a few minutes we did about all the effective work that we did that day. The enemy were in considerable force in the wheatfield and firing upon troops further to our left. We had not been here long, however, before the 27th Indiana began to fall back, being attacked in flank and rear, as we now know, by Pender's brigade, which was advancing from the west. They were hardly out of sight before we had to follow them or be taken prisoners. The 2d Massachusetts were the next victims, and they, too, had to fall back across Cedar Run. This movement and the darkness ended the battle, as Auger's division and Crawford's brigade had been swept from the field long before.

While these events had been taking place to our side, the Confederates had not been idle. Of the Stonewall brigade the 27th and 33rd Virginia were held back a short time by the charge of Crawford's three regiments, but the 5th, 2d and 4th kept moving on until they met our six companies, which Major Williams of the 5th Virginia calls a "skirmish line," which they drove back into the woods. Here he received orders to fall back and connect his line with the 33d Virginia, and as he halted his regiment to do so, he discovered that he was in rear of the Federal troops who had charged on their battery. He says that he swung his regiment around to the right and took them prisoners and saved the battery. He says he captured three colors and 600 prisoners. This is not a very big exaggeration, for the 5th Connecticut and 28th New York lost their colors and the brigade had 350 men missing. As soon as our six companies were driven back into the woods the 2d Virginia was ordered to wheel to the right and advance upon the flank of the 10th Maine, which just at that time was advancing into the wheatfield near the Culpepper road, for the purpose of another attack on the Confederate center. One company of the 2d was detached under command of Captain Moore to enter the wood and guard the Confederate flank. And it would appear from the reports that the 4th Virginia went with the 2d. Captain Moore says that upon entering the woods he met a fresh regiment of Federal troops marching toward him by the flank. That he ordered his company to fire upon them, killing several and wounding a great many, when they retired in confusion. he adds that the bushes concealed his small force of 60 men and saved them. This was doubtless the 27th Indiana, which was the next regiment to enter the woods after we fell back, and Colonel Colgrove reports about such an experience as here described. They rallied, however, and came back to the field almost immediately and were in time to be assailed in flank and rear by Pender's brigade, which took the place of Captain Moore's company a few minutes later, and drove us all back, as before stated. Many of our men were taken prisoners, for in the darkness of early evening they mistook Pender's brigade for reinforcements coming to their assistance, and some, when they discovered their mistake, quietly passed through the Confederate line and were not recognized.

It is useless at this late day to speculate on what might have been, but, as I looked over the field with all the knowledge since acquired, I thought how very different the result would have been if Gordon's brigade had been upon the right of Crawford's, prolonging his line a quarter of a mile further to the west so as to have struck Pender upon the flank as he was advancing. There would have been nothing left of Stonewall Jackson's army. As it was they were so crippled they could not push their advantage further than the simple possession of the field, and during the next day, while there was a truce for the purpose of burying the dead, they withdrew across the Rapidan River.

One of the curiosities of the Confederate reports of the battle is the extremely small losses they report. The 27th Virginia, which was routed and driven from the field in disorder, reports only two killed and a very few wounded.