The Third Battle of Winchester—fought on September 19, 1864—pitted Union General Philip Sheridan against Confederate General Jubal Early in the largest battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley. The conflict ended with the Confederates giving up Winchester for the last time during the war and opening the valley for further Union invasion.
Rutherford B. Hayes, still away years from his U.S. presidency and the “ending” of the Reconstruction Era, fought as a colonel and brigade and division commander during the battle. When his commanding officer was badly wounded, Hayes took over and subsequently wrote the battle report which was eventually preserved in the Official Records. The account is straightforward, especially when paired with a map and some illustrations.
At the beginning of Third Winchester, Hayes commanded the First Brigade of the Second Division of the Army of West Virginia. Here’s a brief outline of the order of battle as it pertains to his report:
Major General George Crook commanded the Army of West Virginia. Colonel Joseph Thoburn led the First Division while Col. Isaac Duval led the Second Division. In Duval’s Division, Hayes commanded the First Brigade and Col. Daniel Johnson commanded the Second Brigade. Within that First Brigade of the Second Division, the 23rd Ohio, 36th Ohio, 13th West Virginia, and 5th West Virginia Battalions fought. (Note: Hayes refers to the West Virginia regiments as just “Virginia” in his report.)
Headquarters Second Infantry Division, Army of West Virginia, Near Cedar Creek, Va, October 13, 1864.
Captain: I have the honor to report that at the battle of Opequon, September 19, 1864, the Second Infantry Division, Army of West Virginia, was commanded by Col. Isaac H. Duval until late in the afternoon of that, when he was disabled by a severe wound, and the command of the division thereupon devolved upon me. Colonel Duval did not quit the field until the defeat of the enemy was accomplished and the serious fighting ended. The division took no part in the action during the forenoon, but remained in reserve at the Opequon bridge, on the Berryville and Winchester pike. The fighting of other portions of the army had been severe, but indecisive. There were some indications as we approached the battlefield soon after noon that the forces engaged in the forenoon had been overmatched.
About 1 p.m. this division was formed on the extreme right of the infantry line of our army, the First Brigade, under my command, in advance, and the Second Brigade, Col. D. D. Johnson commanding, about sixty yards in the rear, forming a supporting line; the right of the Second Brigade being, however, extended about 100 yards farther to the right than the First Brigade. The division was swung around some distance to the left, so as to strike the rebel line on the left flank. The rebel left was protected by field-works and a battery on the south side of Red Bud Creek. This creek was easily crossed in some places, but in others was a deep, miry pool from twenty to thirty yards wide and almost impassable.
The creek was not visible from any part of our line when we began to move forward, and no one probably know of it until its banks were reached. The division moved forward at the same time with the First Division, Colonel Thoburn, on our left, in good order and without much opposition until we unexpectedly came upon Red Bud Creek. This creek and the rough ground and tangled thicket on it banks was in easy range of grape, canister, and musketry from the rebel line. A very destructive fire was opened upon us, in the midst of which our men rushed into and over the creek. Owing to the difficulty in crossing, the rear and front lines and different regiments of the same line mingled together and reached the rebel side of the creek with lines and organization broken; but all seemed inspired by the right spirit, and charged the rebel works pell-mell in the most determined manner. In this charge our loss was heavy, but our success was rapid and complete.
The rebel left in our front was turned and broken, and one or more pieces of artillery captured. No attempt was made after this to form lines or regiments. Officers and men went forward pushing the rebels from one position to another until the defeated enemy were routed and driven through Winchester. Twice during the afternoon the rebels reformed behind lines of earth-works and stone fences, and succeeded in temporarily checking our advance, but very opportunely the cavalry on these occasions on our left, under General —-, charged in magnificent style the rebel lines and destroyed their last chance of holding the field. This division followed the rebel rout into Winchester, being the first troops to enter the town; marched through at dusk camped south of town, having passed from the extreme left.
The loss of the division was as follows: First Brigade—killed, 13; wounded, 121; missing, 1; total, 135. Second Brigade—killed, 24; wounded, 167; total, 191. Total—killed, 37; wounded, 288; missing, 1. Aggregate, 326.
Among the wounded were—Col. I. H. Duval, Ninth Virginia, commanding division, severe; Co. D. D. Johnson, Fourteenth Virginia, commanding Second Brigade, severe; Capt. Russell Hastings, Twenty-third Ohio, acting assistant adjutant general, First Brigade severe; Twenty-third Ohio Volunteers, Capt. John U. Hiltz, leg amputated; Lieut. Charles W. Atkinson, slight, and Adjt. William E. Sweet, severe; Thirty-sixth Ohio, Capt. James G. Barker, severe; Thirty-fourth Ohio, Lieut. James P. Donnelly, slight; Ninety-first Ohio, Capt. L. A. Atkinson, Lieuts. L.K. Stroup and C.N. Hall, Adjt. J.G.D. Findley, all severe; Fifth Virginia, Lieut. Col. W. H. Enochs, slight; Thirteenth Virginia, Capt. M. Stewart and Lieut. L. C. Rayburn, severe; Fourteen Virginia, Lieut. Col. G. W. Taggart, severe.
I regret to have to announce that Capt. Greenbury Slack, Thirteenth Virginia, and Lieut. Asa B. Carter, Thirty-fourth Ohio, were killed with bravely and efficiently discharging their duty.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. B. Hayes, Colonel, Commanding