Commanders at Cedar Creek
Major General Philip Sheridan
Born March 6, 1831 in Albany, New York. Diminutive in stature at 5’5″, he was one of the more effective Union Generals. Sheridan attended West Point and graduated 34th in a class of 52 in 1853. The early part of his army career was spent in the infantry in the Pacific Northwest territories. When the Civil War started, he had attained the rank of Captain. Serving in the Western Theatre of the war, Sheridan began to build a reputation as a very competent officer and effective field commander. In May of 1862 he was promoted to Colonel of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry, where he continued to distinguish himself and gain the attention of his superiors. It is at this time that one of his fellow officers gave him the horse he would ride through the balance of the war, Rienzi, named after a small skirmish in Mississippi.
By July 1st, Sheridan was elevated to Brigadier General and given command of the 11th Division, III Corps. He saw action at such battles as Perryville and Stones River where he continued to demonstrate an exceptional aptitude for strategy and tactics under fire. In April of 1863 Sheridan was made a Major General. Following his participation in the battles of Chattanooga and Chickamauga, in the Spring of 1864, Sheridan joined Ulysses Grant’s Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.
In August of 1864, Grant gave Sheridan a new command and assignment: he would take charge of the Army of the Shenandoah, with the task of defeating Jubal Early and denying the resources of the Valley to the Confederacy. Sheridan embarked on a string of victories over Early’s forces, culminating in the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19th. Sheridan, along with Brig.Gen. George Armstrong Custer would reduce the Shenandoah Valley’s resources to ashes, burning stores of crops, taking livestock, slave laborers, and railroad assets in a scorched earth campaign which would become know to the locals as “the burning.”
After the Valley Campaign, Sheridan would play a decisive role in the final defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia, leading to it’s surrender at Appomattox in April of 1865. Following the Civil War, Sheridan would be posted in the West where he would preside over the Indian Wars, and eventually rise to the rank of 4-star General and Commander of the entire U.S. Army. Sheridan died on August 5, 1888 at the age of 57.
Lieutenant General Jubal Early
Born in Franklin County, Virginia on November 3, 1816, Jubal Early graduated from West Point in 1837, ranked 18th out of a class of 50. He served with the 3rd U.S. Artillery until resigning from the army in 1838. He returned to service during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.
At the outset of the Civil War, Early joined the Virginia Militia as a Brigadier General. From there he raised three regiments of infantry and was made a Colonel in the Confederate States Army. Following First Bull Run/First Manassas, he was promoted to Brigadier General and served under Stonewall Jackson during his brilliant 1862 Valley Campaign. Early proved to be an aggressive field commander, and earned a reputation among his peers as a force to be reckoned with.
By the late Spring of 1864, Early had attained the rank of Lieutenant General and was tasked by Robert E. Lee to go to the Shenandoah Valley to draw Federal forces threatening the Army of Northern Virginia. While Early had been a competent Divisional commander, his performance as a Corps commander was not stellar. By the time of the Battle of Cedar Creek, Early had suffered several major defeats while facing Sheridan. With just over 15,000 men under his command on the morning of October 19th, Early achieved some success in surprising the Federal positions along Cedar Creek, but by mid-afternoon his attack faltered and turned into a complete route.
Early saw the end of the war in Texas, then fled to Mexico, Cuba and finally Canada, managing to escape an official surrender. Eventually he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. Following the war he devoted much of his time to fostering the myth of the Confederate “Lost Cause.” He died in Lynchburg at age 77 in 1894.