November 11, 1864 (Friday)
Word had come to Jubal Early that Philip Sheridan was preparing to send troops to Grant’s army before Petersburg. Since being defeated at the battle of Cedar Creek, Early’s command had licked their wounds near New Market. Sheridan, it was told, had vacated his position at Cedar Creek and moved north, perhaps to Middletown or Newtown. And so, Early began his march north on the day previous.
Perhaps a threat could keep the Union number close. By the close of the first day, they made Woodstock, a march of twenty-two miles. The cavalry fanned out, one division trotting to Fairview, the other to Front Royal.
On this day, the march began at 6am, the weather cold, and the sky clear. But when they arrived on the old battlefield, they found it deserted, save a small body of cavalry, which was on picket. With both divisions of cavalry spread wide, Early retained still a brigade commanded by Gen. William Payne in his immediate front.
Payne’s Virginians met the Federals, surprised as they were, tossing them back and out of their vicinity. They were dogged through Middletown and nearly to Newtown, which was where they found the Federal army.
The alarm, if it could be called that, was sounded. The Federal cavalry had belonged to George Armstrong Custer, and he now ordered his first brigade to “attack and drive the enemy at once.” The second brigade had already formed their lines, but were being pushed back by the men in Payne’s Brigade. This, despite their orders to “attack the enemy with your entire force and drive him.”
So small was this threat, that the artillery was hardly even offered. “If you think you can use any artillery to advantage,” came Custer’s word, “you can have one section [two guns] of Captain Ransom’s battery.”
The fight came so late, however, that darkness fell before it could really transpire. After the sun set, Early met with this cavalry commanders to discuss the following day. They would advance, despite Sheridan’s force. His infantry, however, would remain behind.
In Sheridan’s words, he “got everything ready,” though making ready an entire army is worthy of more then a handful of words. Writing in hindsight, this latest foray hardly compared to that of Cedar Creek, but still, his orders rang out.
“Corps commanders will have their commands under arms and everything hitched up by daylight tomorrow, 5.30a.m.”
And by daylight, Sheridan would be ready to receive whatever Early had gathered.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 43, Part 1, p537, 584; Part 2, p603, 605, 611; Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss; A Memoir of the Last Year of the War For Independence by Jubal A. Early. [↩]