Friday, October 18, 2013

October 19, 1864 Confederate General John Gordon described the battle at Cedar Creek as "the most unique day in the annals of war", because of the many unusual events and circumstances on that day south of Winchester, Virginia. For example:

• The day was marked by a dramatic reversal of fortunes: as Gordon put it, "a most brilliant victory converted into one of the most complete and ruinous routs of the entire war."

• Secondly, although the battle was a tactical military victory for the Union, its greatest impact was the political boost it gave President Lincoln during the final stages of the Presidential campaign.

• Cedar Creek was also unusual in the personal bitterness it generated within each army, including lifelong hostility between Early and Gordon, between Sheridan and Crook , and between Custer and Merritt.

• Finally, the impact on the two commanders could not have been more different. Confederate Commander Jubal Early's assault was daring and brilliantly executed, but the day's outcome essentially finished his career as a commander. He received more blame than he deserved for the Confederate defeat. 

In contrast, Union Commander Phillip Sheridan received more credit than he deserved for the Union victory. He was careless with his troop dispositions and was greatly mistaken in his estimation of Early's intentions and capability. He brought his army close to what would arguably have been the most embarrassing Union defeat of the war, and could have spelled the end of his career, not to mention President Lincoln's. But Cedar Creek propelled him to military fame to such an extent that his horse Rienzi can now be seen in the Smithsonian.

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