Historical Markers
on the
Fisher's Hill battlefield

 


Part of this battlefield was saved through the efforts of the
Civil War Trust

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Fisher's Hill

The view from the top of Fisher's Hill

At the end of the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864 Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early's Army of the Valley was beaten and retreating from the much larger Union Army of the Shenandoah under Major General Philip Sheridan. Fortunately sanctuary was just twenty miles off.

 

South of Strasburg the Shenandoah Valley is split in two by 40 mile long Masanutton Mountain, crossed by only one steep pass halfway down its length. The entrance to the northern half of the Valley is only four miles wide. A stream, Tumbling Run, comes down out of the west, carving a ravine on the north side of a steep-fronted ridge known as Fisher's Hill.

 

The position was a natural fortress for an army defending against an attacker from the north. As Union forces began to gather on the other side of Tumbling Run there was agreement that direct assault would be impossible.

 

But there was a weakness. Early didn't have enough men to fully man the four mile length of the line. He ran out of infantry about a mile short of the mountains on the west and was forced to string out dismounted cavalry to cover the gap. Early didn't have much confidence in his cavalry, but he hoped Federal forces would not be able to move through the broken, rising, heavily wooded country on his far flank.

 

Federal General George Crook recognized the Confederate weakness. And his Eighth Corps troops, who had spent the war campaigning in the mountains of West Virginia, would not be put off by the high ground on the flank. He went to Sheridan with a plan for the main army to threaten the headon attack Early was hoping for while Crook's men quietly picked their way around his flank. When Crook erupted on Early's flank and rear the the main army would also attack, taking the Confederates from two sides.

Crook's plan was opposed by Union Sixth Corps commander Horatio Wright. He believed his troops, detached from the Army of the Potomac and veterans of a far harder school than Crook's West Virginians, should lead the attack. But Crook had an advantage in selling the plan to Sheridan. The two had been roomates and good friends at West Point. Sheridan not only approved Crook's plan, in the future he would take full credit for it, destroying their friendship.

 

Crook's attack went exactly as planned. When his men came boiling off of the mountain slope Early's cavalry dissolved. Knots of infantry put up reistance as they were struck end-on, but threatened from two sides and still out of sorts from their rout two days earlier, they also took to the rear. The story is told by Early's casualties - 30 killed, 200 wounded, and over 1,000 men and 14 guns captured.

 

Sheridan's victory was not complete. After an all-day climb over mountain back trails Crook's exhausted infantry could not keep up the pursuit. Two of Sheridan's cavalry divisions had been sent to the other side of Masanutton Mountain to make a wide swing into Early's rear, but were turned back. The cavalry division he kept with the army was ordered by its commander, William Averell, to stop the pursuit at nightfall - a decision which cost him his command.

 

Still, Early fell back 75 miles, almost leaving the Valley and opening it to the destruction of its crops and cattle in The Burning. And twice beaten, his army seemed eliminated as a military force - at least until he reappeared out of the fog over Cedar Creek on an early October rmorning.





About the Author • ©2007-2014 Steve Hawks