On October 19, 1864, the battle of Cedar Creek erupted in the lower (northern) region of the Virginian Shenandoah Valley. General Jubal Early’s Confederates launched a surprise attack against Union General Philip Sheridan’s camps in the early morning hours and pushed the VIII and XIX Corps into a swift retreat. A Confederate victory in the Valley seemed nearly secured, but the steadfast stand of the VI Corps and the arrival of Sheridan from Winchester changed the situation. Mid-afternoon, the Union army launched a counterattack, reclaimed their camps, and defeated the last major Confederate offensive movement in the valley.
Earlier this year while pulling images related to the battle of Cedar Creek, I came across these photographs in the Library of Congress’s online archive. According to the catalog record, all four of these men were wounded during the battle on October 19, 1864. These are the images of men who fought and suffered in the epic battle. These are a mere handful of soldiers who formed the lines of thousands of fleeing and fighting men on that decisive autumn day.
According to the regimental history, Julius Smith had been previously wounded at the battle of Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, 1864, then injured again at Cedar Creek. His unit—the 49th New York Infantry—was part of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, VI Corps which was instrumental in reforming Union lines. The regiment lost their colonel during the battle of Cedar Creek.
Smith had enlisted in 1861 at age 21 to serve for three years; mustering as a private, he promoted steadily and was a sergeant in Company C by October 1864. He survived his wound and mustered out on June 27, 1865, finishing the war as a second lieutenant.
Corporal James Adril Wisenbaker of Co. I, 12th Georgia Infantry Regiment was photographed with his wife, Sarah A. Dasher Wisenbaker, some time during the Civil War years. The 12th Georgia fought in Cook’s Brigade and Ramseur’s Division on October 19, 1864, attacking east/west directly toward the Belle Grove mansion as the second infantry brigade from the far right of the Gordon’s battle line.
Part of the XIX Corps, the 30th Massachusetts Regiment retreated in the hurried rush to get away from the surprise attack. At some point during the battle, Sergeant Edward Alphonso Simpson fell with a bad wound in his left leg. Catalog notes with the photograph say that his leg was amputated twice, suggesting a lengthy and painful recovery. This image was taken after his wounding and amputations.
First Lieutenant William B. Lovett of Company H of the 138th Pennsylvania was “severely wounded” according to the regimental history. Part of the VIII Corps, the 138th would have been awakened in the midst of the early morning Confederate attack, but throughout the day the regiment “bore a full and active participance, and during part of the day served upon the skirmish line.” It seems probable to assume that Lovett survived his severe wound since his photograph is labeled with the rank “captain.” It is not clear if the photo was taken before or after the battle at Cedar Creek.
These four soldiers were among the 5,000 wounded from the battle. Recently, I went on an adventure and looked into the darkening reflection of Cedar Creek on a chilly autumn evening. Standing alone along the battlefield’s main waterway, I was thankful that I didn’t just have “red and blue lines” from a map in my mind; instead, I could remember the faces of soldiers who fell wounded here 158 years ago. That human connection is key to remembering and giving meaning to the history of these Civil War battles.
Frederick David Bidwell, History of the Forty-Ninth New York Volunteers (1916). Accessed via Google Books. Page 272.
Osceola Lewis, History of the One Hundred Thirty-Eighth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (1866). Accessed via Archive.org. Page 138.