March 19, 1862 (Wednesday)
By the chilly dawn, Union troops had expeditiously thrown a flimsy bridge across Cedar Creek, just north of Strasburg, in the Shenandoah Valley. The previous day, they arrived just in time to see Turner Ashby’s Rebel cavalry, numbering near 700, set a torch to the bridge and exchange some artillery fire.
With the bridge ready for use, General James Shields moved his 6,000-strong division across the creek, marching for Strasburg. As they neared the town, the Rebels greeted them with artillery. Already annoyed, Shields was also a bit confused.
As they moved through the town and as the Rebel gunners fired from the south, Shields assumed that it was Jackson’s entire force before him. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Jackson’s command was near Mount Jackson, twenty or so miles farther south. Immediately, Shields deployed his division, placing his own artillery on a hill to the right of the Turnpike.
Both sides engaged in a bit of dueling, and Shields ordered Col. John Mason forward with a regiment of cavalry and infantry. Forward they marched, across hills and swales, for over a mile, until they crested a larger hill, where they came under the fire from their own artillery, which had apparently not yet found its range. Following the unexpected death of a few horses, as well as the surprise of the riders, they got their first look at “Jackson’s whole force.”
Col. Mason discovered that it was only cavalry with a couple of cannons. As the Union troops advanced, the Rebels would fall back to the next hill. Soon, Shields brought up most of his division, and spent the remainder of the day throwing a regiment or two at a time towards Ashby’s men, who continued falling back. This went on for about five miles, when the sun began to dip west towards the horizon. Unsure how far away Jackson’s whole force actually was, Shields and his division fell back to Strasburg, leaving behind a strong picket line along the hills south of town.1
It was here that Turner Ashby became nearly a ghostly legend to the Union troops. Throughout the day, he had appeared out of nowhere upon his white horse. His artillery, consisting of only two or three guns, held back a force nearly ten times their number. It was there that Ashby became “the terror and the wizard of the Shenandoah.”2
General Grant was again in his element, commanding troops in the field. His close brush with infamy had been thankfully short. He was restored to command and left almost immediately to join his Army of the Tennessee, gathering near Savannah on the Tennessee River.
When Grant arrived at Savannah, his base of operations, he found the army divided. The divisions of Generals McClernand and Smith were encamped on the eastern shore at Savannah, but General Sherman’s and General Hurlbut’s Divisions were at Pittsburg Landing, nine miles upriver on the western shore. General Lew Wallace’s Division split the distance and was at Crump’s Landing, four miles upstream from Savannah.
The first thing Grant did when he arrived was order most of the army to be concentrated, leaving behind General McClernand’s Division in Savannah.3 Trying to get the feel of the land, Grant visited both Pittsburg and Crump’s Landing. Due to the flooded state of the Tennessee, he found that these were the only places where troops could be landed.
Grant was also able to gather some information about the Rebels at Corinth. Their strength could not be more than 20,000, General Sherman reported to him. They had some heavy artillery, but no fortifications. Also, they didn’t seem to suspect that Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was going to be an issue, as they expected General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio to arrive at any time.4
General Buell’s army, however, was stuck along the muddy banks of Duck River, near Columbia, over 100 miles away. The Rebels had burned a bridge and Buell insisted upon having it properly rebuilt, rather than a temporary, make-shift bridge, quickly constructed. Buell was in no real hurry, but neither Grant nor his superior, General Halleck, had made it seem like there was a need. Buell had no idea that Grant had crossed almost his entire army to the west side of the swollen Tennessee River.5
Meanwhile, Grant was curious, or “a little anxious,” as he put it, to find out where Buell was and how long it would take him to get to Savannah. To learn this, he sent two scouts in search of Buell’s army. With them, he sent a message, informing Buell that he was concentrating at Pittsburg Landing.6 While Grant certainly didn’t indicate that there was a reason for Buell to pick up the pace a bit, his anxiety would not be relieved until he had a better idea of when Buell’s 37,000 would join with his 27,000.
In the meantime, Grant was receiving reinforcements from St. Louis and throwing them into brigades and then into divisions, to eventually be commanded by General Prentiss.7
- Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 3, p404. [↩]
- A Military History of the 8th Regiment Ohio Vol. Inf’y by Franklin Sawyer, Fairbanks & Co., 1881. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p45-46. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p48-49. [↩]
- All for the Regiment; The Army of the Ohio, 1861-1862 by Gerald J. Prokopowicz, University of North Carolina Press, 2001. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p47. [↩]
- Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant. [↩]