The Battle of Cedar Mountain

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series The Northern Virginia Campaign
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The Battle of

Cedar Mountain

After the Seven Days Battles, the Confederate defense of Virginia shifted from the east of Richmond to northern Virginia with the Battle of Cedar Mountain in Culpeper County. The battle, also known as Slaughter’s Mountain or Cedar Run, took place on August 9, 1862.

Maj. Gen. George McClellan’s inaction after the Battle of Malvern Hill, prompted Lincoln to withdraw significant numbers of troops from his Army of the Potomac and reassign them to Maj. Gen. John Pope‘s newly constituted Army of Virginia, which was camped in an arc across northern Virginia. Pope had been placed in command on June 26, 1862 after participating in the successful campaign that captured Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River.

General John PopeThe Army of Virginia was deployed with its right flank, under Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, located at Sperryville at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its center, commanded by Maj. Gen Nathaniel P. Banks, was at Little Washington. Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell was at Falmouth on the Rappahannock River, commanding the left flank of the army. Part of Banks’s corps, Brig. Gen. Samuel W. Crawford‘s brigade and Brig. Gen John P. Hatch‘s cavalry, were stationed 20 miles beyond the Union line, at Culpeper Court House.

General Robert E. Lee, the new Confederate commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, saw that there was an opportunity to engage this new Union army and perhaps, defeat them in detail, that is, one contingent at a time. Initially, he dispatched Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson with 14,000 men to Gordonsville on July 13. On July 27th, he reinforced Jackson with Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill‘s large 10,000-man division.

Pope responded to these maneuvers by the Confederates by marching his army south into Culpeper County and into Louisa County with the intention of capturing Gordonsville, an important rail junction. He also was attempting to draw the Confederate’s attention away from McClellan’s withdrawal from the Virginia Peninsula.

Rather than wait for Pope to bring his forces together, Jackson decided to engage the Union forces, one corps at a time, as he had done in his successful Shenandoah Valley campaign. His first target was Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Bank’s Corps.

Jackson put his army in motion on August 7, 1863, moving north from Gordonsville to Culpeper Court House, a distance of some 26 miles. He sentStonewall Jackson his cavalry under Brig. Gen. Beverly Robertson to engage the Union cavalry who were guarding the fords of the Rapidan River and occupying Madison Court House. They were a threat to Jackson’s left flank as his force marched northward. Robertson accomplished this task on August 8th.

Pope was alerted to the Confederate move by the defeated Union cavalry and he immediately responded by ordering Sigel to Culpeper Court House to reinforce Banks. He also ordered Banks to maintain a defensive line on a ridge above Cedar Run, 7 miles south of Culpeper Court House. The stage was set for the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

Jackson’s force consisted of three divisions commanded by Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, Brig. Gen.Charles S. Winder and A.P. Hill. They crossed the Rapidan River in that order. Ewell’s lead brigade, led by Brig. Gen. Jubal Early, began the battle by using their artillery against Union troops on the ridge above Cedar Run, a small creek. Early positioned his infantry on the high ground on the opposite bank of the creek while the artillery dueled.

As they arrived, the rest of Ewell’s Division formed on Early’s right. Winder’s Division formed on Early’s left on the west side of the Culpeper-Orange Turnpike. Both of the divisions brought up their small artillery contingents and joined in the dueling. Hill’s Division, which was in the rear, was used as Jackson’s reserve.

General Nathaniel Banks (1)Banks had a total of 8,000 men who he positioned in a line on the ridge above Cedar Run. Brig. Gen. Samuel W. Crawford‘s brigade was positioned on the Union right. Brig. Gen. Christopher C. Auger’s division on the Union left to the east of the Turnpike. Brig. Gen. John W. Geary‘s brigade was anchored on the Turnpike, while Brig. Gen Henry Prince’s brigade formed the far left opposite Ewell. Brig. Gen. George S. Greene‘s understrength brigade (only two regiments) was kept in reserve in the rear. Banks force was outnumbered by 2-to-1.

Near disaster struck the Confederate command when Winder was mortally wounded by a shell fragment at about 5:00 PM. He was replaced by his senior brigade commander, Brig. Gen. William Taliaferro, who was completely ignorant of Jackson’s battle plans. Before the divisions dispositions were complete, the Union attack commenced. The Union attack caught the Confederates unprepared and had initial success.

At this point, Jackson arrived and began to rally his troops, grabbing a battle flag and waving it. His former unit, the Stonewall Brigade, seeing their former commander took heart and launched an attack into the Union troops, stopping them.

The Union attacking troops were low and ammunition, tired and disorganized. They were in such small numbers that they had insufficient supportMap of the Battle of Cedar Mountain and were unable to resist the Confederate counterattack when it came. Jackson ordered Hill and Ewell forward and by 7:00 PM, the Union forces were in complete retreat.

The Confederate infantry and Brig. Gen William E. Jones‘s 7th Virginia Cavalry hotly pursued the retreating Federals, nearly capturing Banks and Pope, who were at their headquarters a mile behind the Federal line. When Jackson was informed that Sigel was coming up to reinforce Banks, he called off the pursuit and by 10:00 PM all of the fighting had ended.

Losses were high in the battle: Union casualties of 2,353 (314 killed, 1,445 wounded, 594 missing), Confederate 1,338 (231 killed, 1,107 wounded). Crawford’s Union brigade had lost over 50% of its total strength, including most of its officers. The Union brigades of Prince and Geary suffered 30–40% casualty rates. Both generals were wounded, and Prince was also captured. Confederate Brig. Gen. Charles S. Winder was mortally wounded by a shell.

 

 

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