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Early At Cedar Creek
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Author:  Joe Meyer [ Fri Feb 08, 2019 11:38 am ]
Post subject:  Early At Cedar Creek

For many years after the war it was believed that the Confederates blew their chance for a complete rout of Sheridan's army at Cedar Creek when the famished, poorly equipped and unruly rebel soldiers stopped to rummage through the Union camps which had just been overrun. Jubal Early's official report gave this as the cause for the eventual defeat and rout of his own army at that place. He claimed it was because of "bad troops."

Yet John B. Gordon gave a different take on the matter when he published his reminiscences in 1903 almost 40 years later. Gordon pulls no punches in stating that it was because of Early's own hesitation that the battle was lost, and that he, Gordon, braced Early over this very thing upon the battlefield as they examined the Union 6th Corps lines. Gordon claims that the Confederate troops of all four of Early's divisions stood ready to continue the assault for at least two to three hours while Early did nothing. Furthermore, while Gordon admits that there was some pilfering of the Union camps, it was due to a column of unarmed, returning absentees and recuperating soldiers who had come up behind Early's Valley Army and broke ranks to wander through the camps.

Apparently Early did not forward Gordon's official report of the battle to Lee, nor the reports of those divisional quartermasters whose job it was to immediately glean the field behind the rebel lines and salvage what they could. According to Gordon the quartermasters from all four of the rebel divisions testified that very few if any of the line troops broke ranks to pillage and said so in their own reports which Gordon forwarded to Early.

All of which poses the question of whether or not the rebel army could have successfully assaulted the 6th Corps, the last of Sheridan's three corps, before the Union army had recovered enough from the morning's surprise assault and struck back. Gordon believed so, just as he believed that his long delayed flank attack in the last day of the Wilderness battle would have resulted in completely routing the Army of the Potomac. Was Gordon overindulgent in his beliefs and comments about Cedar Creek, or did Early squander one of the best chances of the war?

Author:  Larry Mills [ Sat Feb 09, 2019 9:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Early At Cedar Creek

General Meyer,

I have read most of Gordon's recollections and obviously a person with his fighting record deserves our attention. As a venerable leader of unquestioned loyalty and remarkable perseverance most of us would think twice about questioning his opinion on battles he personally fought in. He is not sparing in his criticism of others including Early whom he served under the longest. But, he respected Early greatly and if he did question his decision it was not personal, but based on his on first hand knowledge of the situation. I noticed Early's stated reason for not renewing the attack was very much the usual response from a general of the era: "The starving troops were tired and disorganized after plundering the enemies camps. We needed to gather all of the badly needed supplies from the battlefield as a first priority. I did not feel my forces were in any condition to make another attack and it was best to hold on to what we had gained." This seemed like a canned answer from a man surprised by the success of his attack and absent of a plan on what to do next (yes, my opinion only).

I have searched my on recollections of my unending desire to understand the whys and hows of civil war battle results. I believe one constant factor present when Early made his decision affected many generals when faced with the most difficult decision on the battlefield. Am I willing to sacrifice my entire force for one more attack that "could" completely destroy my enemy. Many civil war historians called this the "killer instinct" characteristic that some generals possessed, but many did not. Grant, Sherman, Lee and especially Stonewall Jackson were all attributed to have the ability to move in for the kill on a wounded enemy. Jackson exhibited it in the valley and at Chancellorsville with great success. Lee exhibited it at Gettysburg, but had misread his opponent, having committed all to the attack. Grant clearly understood the concept at Shiloh, Vicksburg, and time and again during the Overland Campaign even if the results were not decisive.

I believe Early was an excellent commander, but was simply unable even with the possibility of changing the outcome of the war to roll the dice with all the chips on the table. Those types of generals are rare and the ones who do it only when the time is ripe are even rarer. Napoleon, Alexander, Caesar, Genghis Khan and Rommel all belong a small exclusive group of commanders who never shied from committing every last man to the final attack and win or lose "everything". So I think Early was concerned about what history would say about a general who committed and lost everything. He never considered what could be gained if he won the elusive "total" victory that day.

Author:  David Danner [ Mon Feb 11, 2019 7:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Early At Cedar Creek

I must confess to a limited knowledge about this topic. However, the excellent writing and analysis has prompted me to ask these two gentlemen to stop by my tent for the best sup available at hex 379, 149 in scenario 294 of the Gettysburg module. Salute.

Author:  KWhitehead [ Wed Feb 13, 2019 12:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Early At Cedar Creek

I think you will find most generals with the exception of Robert E. Lee tended to find other causes for their defeats other than themselves. Both Early, Gordon, Jackson, etc. have done this especially once the war was over and they were trying to protect their reputations.

Early can be faulted for what happen when you consider what his orders were. He was not there to defeat Sheridan. That was impossible just due to the numbers. He could achieve a local tactical success but he couldn't drive Sheridan from the valley. His strategic goal was to keep Sheridan occupied so he couldn't return to the AoP. To do that his first priority was not to destroy his own army. Which is what he did achieve.

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