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It was devilishly hot in the summer of 1862, an oppressive, debilitating heat that ravaged the Union marching columns and left even the strongest soldiers lying by the roadside, gasping like fish pulled out of a creek. The temperature was climbing toward 100 degrees as Major General John Pope’s newly organized Army of Virginia pushed down Culpeper Road. Major General Nathaniel Banks’ II Corps held the van of the army, kicking up a cloud of choking dust that could be seen for miles.

By dawn of August 9, Pope was aware that Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s forces were moving on his front. The blue-clad cavalry of Brig. Gen. George Dashiell Bayard, some 1,200 effectives, covered the front of Brig. Gen. Samuel Crawford’s brigade at its advanced position near Cedar Mountain. Three miles up the road toward Culpeper the remainder of Banks’ II Corps assembled, with Brig. Gen. James Rickett’s division three miles farther back.

Major General Franz Sigel’s I Corps was on its way to Culpeper, as was Brig. Gen. Rufus King’s division of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell’s III Corps. Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. John Buford’s cavalrymen were burning horseflesh in a hasty withdrawal from Madison Court House to Sperryville.

Pope ordered Banks’ corps to join their messmates, Crawford’s brigade, at Cedar Mountain, telling Banks in an order dictated by his aide: “General Banks to move to the front immediately, assume command of forces in the front, deploy his skirmishers if the enemy advances, and attack him immediately as he approaches, and be reinforced from here.” Banks interpreted the order to mean that he should confront Jackson as soon as the armies made contact. That was not what Pope had in mind.

Bayard’s and Buford’s cavalry had been the bane of Stonewall Jackson’s existence for the past several days. The night before, the ubiquitous Yankee horsemen had raided Jackson’s bivouacked column, setting off a firestorm of musketry at 3 o’clock in the morning. Now Jackson fretted constantly about the 1,200 wagons the army had gathered in its train. Brigadier General Jubal A. Early’s Virginia brigade held the van of Maj. Gen. Richard Ewell’s division, and although the irascible “Old Jube” needed help mounting his horse–he’d been wounded in the shoulder at Fort Magruder a few weeks earlier–he was in fine form. Because of the Federal cavalry raids, Early was ordered to picket the road, requiring the services of the 44th Virginia and six companies of the 52nd Virginia.

On Culpeper Road, three-quarters of a mile south of the intersection with the Madison Court House road and just west of Slaughter’s Mountain–named after Captain Phillip Slaughter, who had served in the Revolution, and also referred to as Cedar Mountain–a gathering of Bayard’s cavalry offered battle. Early pushed out his skirmish line, accompanied by a brace of 12-pounders, and proceeded to send the outmanned horsemen flying. With his videttes posted well to the north and his divisional commander informed of the proceedings, Old Jube led the brigade toward the intersection, soon coming under artillery fire from the omnipresent Union cavalry. The Federals gave every indication of preparing for battle at this place.

Jackson arrived on the scene and met with Ewell at a farmhouse just to the rear, where they quickly developed a plan of attack. Ewell was to march Brig. Gen. Isaac Trimble’s brigades and the Louisiana brigade of Brig. Gen. Harry Hays, now under the command of former New Orleans chief of police Colonel Henry Forno, over Cedar Mountain and strike the Federals on their left. Meanwhile, Early would continue to press up Culpeper Road toward the center of the Federal position. Brigadier General John Winder’s division would support Early and press the Federal right.

Jackson’s marching columns, with Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill’s Light Division bringing up the rear, lay strung out over 10 miles of hot, dusty Virginia countryside. Hill’s first indication of contact occurred about six miles from Culpeper Courthouse. The divisional commander, it appears, was not aware of Jackson’s battle plan.

While Early waited for Winder to bring up his division, the general led a reconnaissance. His efforts soon bore fruit, as he was able to locate an old farm lane that exited Culpeper Road and spilled out of the woods directly onto the Crittenden farm, where the Federal cavalry had formed. Early pushed, prodded, swore and cursed the brigade through the forest that shielded the movement. As Early’s men advanced through the woods, Ewell’s artillery, which had kept well closed on the infantry columns, opened up on the unseen Federals who lay beyond the rolling countryside of the farm. The Rebels managed to fire 14 rounds of spherical case shot before the Federals responded with a splendid salvo of counterbattery fire that showered the choleric Early with dirt and dust.

With Colonel James A. Walker’s game 13th Virginia posted as skirmishers and the 12th Georgia of Trimble’s brigade posted on the right flank, the Confederates debouched from the woods, advanced across a farm lane and formed a battle line just north of the clapboard-sided Crittenden farmhouse. Shots were exchanged with the two recalcitrant Federal cavalry regiments, and Early advanced his 1,500-man brigade to a rise that provided a panoramic view of the battlefield. As the brigade appeared across the crest of the ridge, Federal artillerists opened at a range of 1,600 yards and forced the Confederates to withdraw to the west side of the hill.

Ewell’s remaining two brigades (Trimble’s and Forno’s) exited Culpeper Road just beyond the ford and moved on Early’s right, along the north shoulder of the mountain. Well to their left and far below their present position on the mountainside, the infantry could clearly make out Early’s men.

Just after 2 p.m., Winder’s division came up and began the arduous and time-consuming task of linking battle lines with Early. To the rear, along Culpeper Road, the six brigades of A.P. Hill’s enormous Light Division stretched along the dusty road for miles. Ahead, Hill’s veterans could hear the familiar report of brass 12-pounders, and realized that the battle had been joined.

Early had carefully studied the landscape that lay before his command: the rolling wheat fields and immense cornfields directly on his front and right, the undulating swales and gullies that could easily hide a regiment, the north and south forks of Cedar Run and, finally, a copse of cedar trees on his immediate right front that seized his imagination as an ideal post for a well-appointed battery. A runner was sent to Ewell with the call for artillery support, but Ewell’s prescient artillery chief, A.R. Courtney, had already dispatched Captain W.D. Brown of the Chesapeake Artillery, pulling one 3-inch Whitworth rifle, and Captain W.F. Dement of the Maryland line, with two 12-pounder Napoleons. Within minutes the three Confederate pieces were lobbing spherical shells toward their Union counterparts.

Winder began to move his artillery up Culpeper Road with the assistance of his chief of artillery, Major Snowden Andrews. The general wanted as many rifled pieces as they could muster, and Andrews sent Parrott rifles and Napoleons to the gate where the farm lane exited Culpeper Road.

Initially, Early’s line ran all the way to Culpeper Road, but when the van of Winder’s division came up, he quickly shortened his brigade front to the south. Brigadier General W.B. Taliaferro’s amalgamated Virginia and Alabama brigade began to fill in on the left, while Colonel T.S. Garnett’s Virginia brigade, after taking a severe shelling at the gate, moved northeastward across Culpeper Road into a line of woods that fronted an open wheat field. There the brigade formed an “L” facing both south to Early’s left and northeast toward the wheat field.

Far to the south, at Cedar Mountain, Ewell was determined to get Captain Joseph W. Latimer’s Virginia Battery posted on the heights. Assisted by a mixed force of cavalrymen and infantry, Latimer’s artillerists pulled the cannons up the heights and into battery, where they were joined by a section of the Bedford Artillery. They soon drew a bead on the Union batteries firing salvos from across the cornfield.

The Southern cannonade was dramatically increased when two sections of the Light Division’s artillery under the command of Lt. Col. Reuben Walker moved into place on the left of Early’s line. The two sections, one of which belonged to the much-
esteemed Major William Pegram, came under horrific skirmish fire. Lying not 150 yards away in the tall corn, elements of the 8th and 12th U.S. Infantry battalions of Brig. Gen. Henry Prince’s brigade opened a galling and accurate rifle fire, unhorsing a number of cannoneers. Fortunately for the Confederates, Early observed the artillerists’ plight and expeditiously ordered infantry forward in close support.

Winder, reduced to shirtsleeves, was running about near the area of the gate, feverishly working with his artillery. About an hour after the artillery duel had commenced, Winder was struck by a shell and suffered a “tremendous hole torn in his side.” Not long after the splenetic Winder had fallen, Andrews also fell victim to Federal fire. A shell fragment tore across his stomach, nearly gutting him, as he prepared to advance his artillery. Miraculously, Andrews would survive his horrible wound.

The artillery contest had opened around 4 p.m. and continued unabated for over an hour and a half. By 5:45 p.m. Banks sent his infantry toward the Confederate lines. Banks, little more than a rank amateur, failed to follow the fundamental military maxim of the day, that an attacker should possess twice the number of troops as the defender.

Brigadier General Christopher C. Augur’s Union division lay opposite Early’s brigades in the tall corn 1,500 yards away. On Augur’s right was the Ohio brigade of Brig. Gen. John W. Geary. On Geary’s left, Prince’s brigade advanced on Early’s command, battle flags flying in the thick, sultry air as the punishing temperature steadily rose. The assault had just commenced when both Augur and Geary were felled by Confederate shots and forced from the field. Nevertheless, the attack continued. The Ohioans on Geary’s line advanced under a fearsome barrage of Confederate shot and ball. The 29th and 5th regiments were ordered up with the 66th and 7th, although the 29th fell behind as the result of cowardice on the part of its commanding officer. As the bluecoats cleared the cornfield some 300 yards from the Confederate line, the Rebels opened fire on the massed Yankees.

Somehow, the skirmish line held against the fusillade. “Rally on the colors, boys!” the file-closers shouted, trying to force their voices above the cacophony of battle. On the Federals came,
in good order, their ranks well-closed, until vicious and well-aimed fire struck them from the right flank. The 21st Virginia of Brig. Gen. Richard Garnett’s brigade had come into line unnoticed along Culpeper Road and hammered the Union assault into the ground.

The rattle of musketry became continuous along the entire front, joining the roar of artillery. The Confederate guns posted at the gate had succeeded in knocking down the determined Ohioans, and Pegram’s crews had been hard at work since their arrival an hour earlier. On the Confederate right, at Cedar Mountain, 18-year-old Captain Latimer’s Parrott rifles were busy dropping shells into Geary’s and Prince’s advancing blue lines. Soon the field was bathed in blue-gray smoke.

Jackson had kept close to the action himself and, in the midst of a furious barrage, penned an urgent missive to Hill calling for his hard-driving division. But Hill, or rather the van of his division, was already up. Brigadier General Edward L. Thomas’ Georgia brigade was placed to the right of Early’s line after a difficult march at the double-quick.

The Union infantry continued to sweep forward against the enemy, their “huzzahs” screamed against the roar of musket and cannon fire. Prince moved the 111th Pennsylvania and 3rd Maryland through the corn toward Early, then received orders to throw his entire brigade at the Confederates en echelon. The orders, executed under extreme duress, were dispatched with a notation for the 109th Pennsylvania and 102nd New York to take care not to fire into the lead regiments.

But just such a volley was fired. Troopers from the 3rd Maryland fell, shot in the back, and both the Marylanders and the Pennsylvanians broke for the rear. The 109th Pennsylvania and 102nd New York did not hesitate, but moved in good order out of the corn. The 109th volleyed into the 12th Georgia, while the 102nd wheeled right and opened on Thomas’ recently arrived brigade. The Rebels’ return fire was a nearly solid wall of lead, and Prince’s valiant troops were halted, victimized by Thomas’ oblique flanking fire.

Confederate artillery fire bellowed into the faces of the oncoming infantrymen. Their spherical case ammunition had long been used up, and the gunners now were using short-fused canister, double-shotted. The effects were immediate. The Federal assault ground to a halt as the advance troops began to flounder over reddened fields thickly coated with human gore.

Minutes earlier, north of Culpeper Road, Crawford had sprung something of a surprise on the poorly tended Confederate left. Three of his regiments, the 5th Connecticut, 28th New York and 45th Pennsylvania, had formed line with several companies of the 3rd Wisconsin of Brig. Gen. George Gordon’s command. The commingled brigade faced due west, looking across a recently harvested wheat field, into an undeveloped line of Confederate infantry commanded by Lt. Col. T.S. Garnett.

The Federals emerged from the woods at the edge of the wheat field, dressed on their colors and burst with loud cries toward Garnett’s Rebels. On their left, across the road, Geary’s Ohioans were catching hell from Taliaferro’s Virginians and Alabamians. But the Ohioans’ bravery effectively shielded Crawford’s men from enemy flanking fire. The Federals made it to the center of the wheat field without taking any musketry at all. Then came a shrill, apocalyptic volley of musketry, so loud that for a brief moment it drowned out the artillery fire. The Federal casualty lists began to swell. Colonel Dudley Donnelly was hit, then Lt. Col. Edwin F. Brown. Eventually 17 out of 18 field officers of the 28th New York would join their commanders on the list of honor before the sun had set.

Somehow, Crawford’s men kept coming. They met the enemy in close combat at the edge of the wheat field, and the Confederate line began to waver. Garnett’s left collapsed, and within minutes the entire brigade was broken as the 28th New York and 5th Connecticut left the woods and drove down on the 42nd and 48th Virginia. Hit from the front, flank and rear, the Southern troops finally were overrun.

A stygian pall descended over the smoke-filled woodlands. Several Virginians who had been taken prisoner reported, following their release, that Union soldiers had mercilessly murdered a number of Rebels after they surrendered. One soldier stated that he had been bayoneted as he lay wounded and helpless.

The fighting in the wheat field was not yet over. Coming close on the heels of the 5th Connecticut and 28th New York, several companies of the 3rd Wisconsin and 46th Pennsylvania were struck by flanking fire from the renowned Stonewall Brigade, which had tardily arrived on the northern edge of the field. They were too late to halt the two Union regiments now massacring their comrades in the woods, but they did punish the trailing edge of Crawford’s makeshift brigade. The Wisconsin men suffered greatly and were forced to withdraw, leaving behind their dead. The 46th Pennsylvania fought on into the woods, driving back the 10th and 27th Virginia, then turned left and brought up the rear as the 28th New York and 5th Connecticut fell on the unsuspecting Virginians who had formed line on Culpeper Road.

The two Virginia regiments were completely unaware of the assault now gaining momentum on their rear–unaware, that is, until musket balls came crashing into their ranks from a distance of 30 feet.

The fighting became close-in and ugly, harder even than the contest in the woods adjacent to the wheat field. The men fought with swords, clubbed muskets, knives and fists, and the swirling chaos spilled out onto Culpeper Road. The 21st Virginia was broken, but in its demise the regiment had strewn the ground with Federal dead. Survivors of the 48th Virginia streamed toward the gate and presumed safety, while other small bands of Confederates took shelter in the woods northwest of their old line. The Confederate left was now in shambles. Jackson himself came up after ordering the vulnerable artillery away from the gate and watched stoically for a minute as his men fled past him.

Crawford’s troops were understandably ecstatic. They had not often seen the backs of Stonewall Jackson’s troops, and they were richly enjoying their success. They got themselves back into a makeshift line on the left flank of the 47th Alabama and volleyed point-blank into the Rebels. The Alabamians, combat novices, broke under fire and took the 48th Alabama with them. The 23rd and 37th Virginia, brigaded with the Alabamians, sustained their position better, but it was only a matter of minutes before the brigade ceased to exist as a fighting unit.

With Taliaferro’s command broken and fleeing westward, Crawford’s troops fell on Early’s left flank. The brigade was without benefit of its seasoned brigadier–he had ridden to his right to help align Thomas’ brigade just before the Yankees swept across Culpeper Road.

The rout of Taliaferro’s brigade placed Pegram’s guns squarely in harm’s way–not that the effervescent youth minded being placed in such a position. Guns were loaded with double-shotted rounds of canister, short-fused and discharged remorselessly. Still, Pegram’s cannoneers, fighting infantry at less than 100 yards, were taking considerable casualties. Accordingly, his commander, Lt. Col. James A. Walker, ordered him out of the melee.

Crawford’s assault, beginning to peter out, struck Early’s left regiment, Walker’s 13th Virginia. The sweat-covered bluecoats swept around the 13th and routed the remaining regiments, then were forced to turn and fight Walker’s troops, nearly encircling the recalcitrant Virginians.

Early’s fine brigade had broken up nearly as quickly as Taliaferro’s, although Walker, who would later command the Stonewall Brigade at Gettysburg, led the 13th with élan. Unsupported, Walker ordered a breakout and managed to extricate the regiment in good order. The regiment’s efforts slowed down Crawford’s assault and helped in positioning the Federals directly on the flank of Captain William Brown’s 12th Georgia. The Georgians held a unique line along a minor rise that allowed them an easy shot at the vulnerable flanks of Crawford’s fast-advancing regiments. After firing, Brown’s troops had merely to run a few paces down the slope, reload without fear of being hit by enemy fire, and return to the line. When Early arrived on the scene, Brown shouted, “General, my ammunition is nearly out; don’t you think we had better charge them?”

The 12th Georgia, acting in concert with Ewell’s blazing guns on Cedar Mountain, Brown’s and Dement’s artillery, and Thomas’ brigade, sent a chorus of lead and shot into Crawford’s unsupported brigade. The charge slowed, then ground to a halt.

Jackson was standing near the gate, his life in great danger as he tried desperately to rally his shattered line, with sword and scabbard–they were rusted together–raised in one hand and a Confederate battle flag in the other. What Confederate worth the name could abandon “Old Jack” in his time of peril? The routed troops of Garnett’s, Taliaferro’s and Early’s brigades began to halt, then rally. Across the area a cheer rose up: “Jackson! Jackson!”

Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch’s North Carolina brigade had been thrown into the melee by Jackson himself, and now entered the woods northwest of the gate, plodding toward the wheat field. Portions of broken Rebel commands came scurrying through Branch’s troops, causing more confusion though not interfering with the lightly opposed advance.

Brigadier General James Jay Archer followed Branch through the thick woods, then obliqued northward and came up on the North Carolinian’s left. There, off to their right front, stood the 10th Maine. The New Englanders, brigaded with Crawford’s sanguinary regiments, had missed the charge an hour earlier and had advanced into the wheat field to cover the withdrawal. The Yankees were taking murderous fire from Branch’s North Carolinians and trying desperately to return the volley. Archer’s amalgamated brigade of Tennesseans, Alabamians and Georgians gleefully added their weight of iron to the fight, and the Federals began to fall in great heaps.

Mercifully, the order to withdraw was given, and the New Englanders bolted for the sanctuary of the woods east of the wheat field, near Culpeper Road. As the ranks were breaking up, another Fed-
eral brigade, Brig. Gen. George Gordon’s, was making its way through the woods toward the wheat field, while a battalion of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry came charging down the road, streamed into the wheat field and proceeded to get itself slaughtered in as glorious and ineffectual a cavalry effort as any that occurred dur-
ing the war.

The galloping Pennsylvanians rode past Branch’s infantry and experienced firsthand the bitter effects of Southern marks-
manship. The horsemen turned in a sweeping arc past Archer’s troops and suffered mightily at their hands, as well. In all, the 1st Cavalry lost 34 of the 164 men who had begun the charge.

In the northern portion of the wheat field, the Stonewall Brigade was busy killing Crawford’s fleeing troopers and sealing the Confederate left. Most of the Union soldiers making a run for safety were either shot down or taken prisoner. The arrival of Gordon’s brigade deflected the Virginians’ attention and helped some Union soldiers escape. Ironically, some of the Northern troops who an hour earlier had participated in the murder of Confederate soldiers who had honorably surrendered, now found themselves in a killing field from which the heavy hand of judgment provided no succor. They fell in heaps. The 5th Virginia captured the battle flags of the 5th Connecticut and 28th New York, along with a number of prisoners who were, by all accounts, humanely treated. Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Dorsey Pender’s brigade moved up on the Stonewall Brigade’s rear.

Jackson’s center had been secured for more than half an hour. The efforts of the 14th Georgia of Thomas’ brigade had resulted not only in blunting Crawford’s spearhead but also in providing a rallying point, near the gate, for broken regiments. There, Lt. Col. Robert W. Folsom, commanding the 14th Georgia, had rallied nearly 800 muskets, which provided an effective resistance to the surging Federals.

Walker’s 13th Virginia, which had earlier fought out of a pocket at the original brigade line, was joined by a fragment from the 31st Virginia. Together, both regiments, acting in concert with the 14th Georgia, sallied toward Culpeper Road, driving elements of Crawford’s and Geary’s Federals before them. The three regiments arrived at the road in time to volley into the charging Pennsylvania horsemen.

Meanwhile, at Cedar Mountain, Forno’s and Trimble’s brigades began their sweep across the battlefield, while north of their position, in the bloody wheat field, the antagonists prepared to play out the final act in the drama.

Gordon’s Federals laid their cartridge boxes beside them and awaited the Confederates. Archer’s men came forward, followed by the Stonewall Brigade and, on their left, Dorsey Pender’s seasoned fighters. The Federals volleyed, but the Rebel assault halted only momentarily.

“Take aim. Fire low! Fire!” a Confederate officer screamed, and the roar of 1,100 muskets echoed across the parched field. Archer’s men came on, running hard. On Gordon’s right, Pender’s North Carolinians, eager to join the fray, volleyed into his flank. The Federals broke as Archer’s men came crashing into the fence line.

Archer’s bold charge broke the last major Federal resistance on what would become known as the Cedar Mountain battlefield. Jackson had somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a battle that the brilliant, if dour, Presbyterian would always consider his greatest fight.

Late the next day, a thunderstorm broke the oppressive heat and gave succor to the scores of wounded who lay about the field. The day after that, with the smell of putrefying flesh heavy in the Virginia air, Jackson ordered his command back across the Rapidan, heading for the old killing fields at Manassas, having blunted at Cedar Mountain yet another hopeful Union advance.

By Robert C. Cheeks