Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 03.djvu/129

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119
General Early's Valley Campaign.

with Grant, either by advancing directly upon Richmond or by operating on its lines of communication with a powerful cavalry until a junction was formed with him below Petersburg; in which case the important diversion in favor of Lee would have come to naught. Therefore the object of detaining Sheridan with his formidable force in the Valley sufficiently warranted Early, on the soundest military principles, in his determination to oppose him at all hazard.

The defiant attitude assumed by him was the most effective he could have adopted for accomplishing his object, and it created a deception as to his strength that made his opponent cautious, but which was quickly dissipated by a collision. His force at this time was less than seven thousand men, while that of Sheridan was greater by at least four to one.

Sheridan's forces having sufficiently recovered from the effect of the battle, pursued Early, and on the 22d attacked him in his position on Fisher's Hill. The thin Confederate ranks could offer but feeble resistance to the overwhelming force brought against them, and the conflict was consequently of short duration; and, owing to the extent and difficulty of the position, the Confederates sustained considerable loss before they could extricate themselves.

Early then retired up the Valley to a position above Harrisonburg, while Sheridan pursued as far as New Market. Both armies then remained inactive for some days, in order to rest and reorganize their forces.

About the first of October, Sheridan retraced his steps down the Valley to the neighborhood of Middletown, where he took up a position on an elevated plateau behind Cedar creek. Early, perceiving that his adversary had retired, pursued him to the neighborhood of Strasburg, where he took up a position from which he might be able to attack with advantage. Sheridan had unwittingly assumed a position that gave his adversary admirable advantages and opportunity to execute a surprise.

Early entrusted a considerable force to General Gordon for that purpose. Having made himself familiar with the work in hand, Gordon, on the night of 18th October, proceeded to its execution. Crossing Cedar creek sufficiently below the Federal pickets to avoid observation, he cautiously proceeded in the direction of the Federal encampments without accident or discovery. A favorable point for the accomplishment of his plans was gained just before daybreak on the 19th. The camp was reached, and in the midst