September 10, 1864 (Saturday)
Philip Sheridan had been on the defensive for some time now, believing the Confederates before him near Winchester too strong to attack. This he did with the sanction of General Grant, who had believed that perhaps the Confederates were leaching troops away from the Shenandoah Valley to bolter their lines near Petersburg. But now he could see this was not so.
“I would not have you make an attack with the advantage against you,” he wrote the day previous, “but would prefer just the course you seem to be pursuing – that is, pressing closely upon the enemy, and when he moves, follow him up, being ready at all time to pounce upon him if he detaches any considerable force.”
This strategy could effectively hold Jubal Early’s entire Army of the Valley in place, barring it from being any use at all to General Lee. Conversely, however, it also meant that most of the Shenandoah Valley still remained in Southern hands. This was not ideal, but Grant had larger plans.
“We are strengthening our position here [near Petersburg] so that a small force can hold the present line, and leave the greater part of the army to act on a given point when I chose.”
Part of Sheridan’s defensive stance involved his cavalry having their way with their Southern counterparts. Day after day, the troopers under William Averell handily whipped those under Lunsford Lomax. On the 9th, however, things began to change. The Union cavalry appeared below Brucetown [near White Hall on the map], setting fire to a few mills along the Opequon, but was there met by a division of infantry.
And then on this date, Early moved two divisions under Robert Rodes and Stephen Ramseur from the defenses near Winchester, north through Bunker Hill and then to Darkesville [Bucklestown on the map].
“We had a very hard rain in the morning, with thunder and lightening,” wrote cartographer Jed Hotchkiss. “We marched through. Our infantry marched just beyond Darkesville. Our cavalry drove the Yankees through Martinsburg after the infantry hard started them from Darkesville.” Lomax and his cavalry gave chase, while the infantry returned to Bunker Hill.
Averell, of course, told a similar tale, though it differed in some fairly obvious areas. “The enemy was repulsed and driven back to Bunker Hill,” he wrote. This wasn’t exactly true in the strictest sense, but he soon told a more truthful story. “The cavalry of Lomax were brought forward, with artillery, and compelled my First Brigade to retire, it having, however, nearly exhausted its ammunition.” And so even if his own troopers had to retreat, it wasn’t because of the attacking enemy, but because they had shot at this enemy too much to continuing shooting at them some more.
Things would continue in this manner until Sheridan knew for sure that the Rebel numbers were dwindled.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 43, Part 1, p573; Part 2, p57, 65, 66; Personal Memoirs by Philip Sheridan; A Memoir of the Last Year of the War For Independence by Jubal A. Early; From Winchester to Cedar Creek by Jeffry D. Wert; The Last Battle of Winchester by Scott C. Patchan. [↩]