In February, 1865, Union Major General Philip Sheridan began moving up Shenadoah Valley towards Staunton, Virginia. Opposing him were the Confederate troops under Jubal Early, who had had badly defeated the year before at the Battle of Cedar Creek. 150 years ago today Sheridan's lead division of cavalry, 2,500 men under Brig. Gen. George Custer, approached Early just outside Waynesboro. The Confederates had a little more than 1,000 men behind earthworks which covered their entire front. Custer sent his first brigade around the Confederates left flank, while his second made a diversion in the front.
The Federals horse artillery came into action at around 3:30 pm, and several minutes later the rebels were shocked by the flank attack. They were thrown into a panic, and fled after a feeble resistance. Jedediah Hotchkiss, a Confederate staff officer, called it “one of the most terrible panics and stampedes I have ever seen. There was a perfect rout along the road up the mountain, and the enemy ... dashed rapidly forward into the swarm of flying men, wagons, &c....” Many Confederates were captured and the rest were widely scattered. The Army of the Valley no longer existed as an organized force, and Early himself escaped with only a handful of staff. He returned to Lee at Richmond having lost an entire corps of the army since he had left the year before. Although Lee valued Early's skills as a general, he had no choice but to remove him from command. It says much to the character of both men, that after the war Jubal Early was one of Lee's staunchest defenders, even though he had removed him from command.
|Early later in life|