September 21, 1864: Battle of Fisher’s Hill

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Fisher's Hill

After his defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, go here to read about it,  Early retired south to a strong position near Strasburg, Virignia, with his right anchored on the North Branch of the Shenandoah River, and his left on Fisher’s Hill, grandiloquently known during the Civil War as the Gibraltar of the Valley.  The position was a very strong one, but with only 10,000 men to cover four miles, Early did not have enough troops to man it adequately.

Sheridan with 29,000 men quickly decided that a frontal attack would be fruitless without a flank attack.  Crook was sent with his corps on an arduous march to flank the Confederate left on Fisher’s Hill.  Crook was in position to commence his attack at 4:00 PM on September 22, while Sheridan pressed Early from the front.  After some desultory fighting, the Confederate army routed.  Battle losses in dead and wounded were minimal, but 1000 Confederates were taken prisoner.  Early retreated to Waynesboro leaving Sheridan in undisputed control of the lower Valley, a control that Sheridan was going to use to destroy the granary of the Confederacy.

Here is Early’s report to General Robert E. Lee on the engagement:

I posted my troops in line of Fisher’s Hill with the hope of arresting Sheridan’s progress, but my line was very thin, and having discovered that the position could be flanked, as is the case with every position in the Valley, I had determined to fall back on the night of the 22d, but late that evening a heavy force was moved under cover of the woods on the left and drove back the cavalry there posted, and got in the rear of my left flank, and when I tried to remedy this the infantry got into a panic and gave way in confusion, and I found it impossible to rally it. The artillery behaved splendidly, both on this occasion and at Winchester. I had to order the guns to be withdrawn, but the difficulties of the ground were such that twelve guns were lost because they could not be gotten off.

The loss in the infantry and artillery was 30 killed, 210 wounded, and 995 missing; total, 1,235. I have been able to get no report of the loss in the cavalry, but it was slight. Very many of the missing in the infantry took to the mountains. A number of them have since come in and others are still out. The enemy did not capture more than 400 or 500, but I am sorry to say many men threw away their arms.

The night favored our retreat, and by next morning the commands were pretty well organized. At Mount Jackson next day I halted and drove back a force of cavalry which was pursuing, and then moved to Rude’s Hill, where I halted until the enemy’s infantry came up next day and was trying to flank me, when I moved off in line of battle for eight miles, occasionally halting to check the enemy. This continued until nearly sundown, when I got a position at which I checked the enemy’s further progress for that day, and then moved under cover of night toward Port Republic to unite with Kernshaw. After doing this I drove a division of cavalry from my front at Port Republic, and then moved to Waynesborough, where two divisions under Torbert were destroying the bridge, and drove them away; and after remaining there one day I moved to the vicinity of Mount Crawford, where I awaited the arrival of Rosser’s brigade to take the offensive, but before it arrived the enemy was discovered to be falling back on the morning of the 6th. I immediately commenced following the enemy, and arrived here on the 7th, and have been waiting to ascertain whether Sheridan intends crossing the Blue Ridge before moving farther.

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