Sheridan's Ride

General Sigel had entered the Valley on May 1, but was defeated by Breckinridge on the 15th. Hunter succeeded Sigel, and completely routed Breckinridge at Piedmont. He now advanced upon Lynchburg, devastating the country as he went, but was compelled to retreat before a strong force which Lee had sent to oppose him. This Confederate success was followed by movements of great importance. General Early, with twenty thousand men, made a rapid march northward through the Valley, reaching Winchester on the 3d of July, and Hagerstown, Maryland, on the 6th. He then moved boldly upon Washington, defeating General Wallace on the Monocacy, and reaching a point within six miles of the Capital on the evening of the 10th. An immediate assault might have given him possession of the city, which was weakly defended. But he delayed for a day, and the arrival of two corps secured the city and forced Early to retreat hastily. He regained the Valley with his spoils, defeated General Crook at Kernstown, and sent a cavalry party into Pennsylvania, which burned the town of Chambersburg in reprisal for Hunter's depredations in the Valley.

On August 7 General Sheridan was assigned to the command of the forces opposing Early. No event of importance took place until September 19, on which day Early was severely defeated on the Opequan, losing six thousand men, the Federal loss being about five thousand. Two days afterwards Early was again defeated at Fisher's Hill. Sheridan now marched up the Valley, destroying everything that could serve for army supplies. Supposing his foe to be helpless, Sheridan repaired to Washington in October, to confer with the Secretary of War about sending part of his army back to Grant. During his absence Early made a night attack on his army, which was then posted on the north side of Cedar Creek. The surprise was complete, the troops being routed at all points, and driven back in a confusion little short of a panic. The severity of the pursuit was somewhat reduced by the Confederates stopping to plunder the Union camp, and the broken brigades regained some degree of order.

Then occurred that striking incident which has been so worthily celebrated in art and poetry,--Sheridan's ride from Winchester. The commander had got to that point on his return to the army, and first learned of the rout of his troops by the appearance at the town of the most rapid of the fugitives. Instantly mounting his mettled war-horse, he rode with headlong speed to the field of battle, twenty miles away. His appearance on the field inspired the depressed soldiers, while his cheering words put new life into their ranks. The lines were quickly re-formed, an advance was ordered, and to Early's surprise he found his victorious troops impetuously assailed by the recently broken host. His defeat was complete, his loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners enormous, and his army was so shattered that it was never able to take the field again. This definitely ended the war in the Valley.

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