Friday, May 24, 2013

Cedar Mountain 1862

American Civil War

Second Manassas Campaign

9 August 1862

Confederates under Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson: approx. 17,500
Union under Nathaniel Banks: approx. 8,000

Weather: Clear. Extremely hot (90+ F) and humid. Thunderstorms just before sunset.

Location: 38° 24’ 7” N   78° 4’ 2”  W  , about  8 miles (13 km) southwest of Culpeper, VA

First Light:  04:52   Sunrise:  05:21   Sunset:  19:14   End of Twilight: 19:42
(calculated from U.S. Naval Observatory from location and date)

PARENTAL WARNING: Possible Disrespect to a Revered Confederate Icon

A caution to those of you who may be fans of Stonewall Jackson; my discussion of this lessor known battle in which he is credited with a miraculous victory may not put him in the most glowing light. I am not a member of his press corps. In fact, while I was growing up, though my dad, as a Texan,  seemed to be a sympathetic Confederate (he used to get all choked up whenever we'd visit Gettysburg and stop at the Lee memorial), as a clinical psychologist he once told me that he attended a convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in New Orleans where one of the symposium topics was a debate on whether Stonewall Jackson might have been diagnosed as a schizophrenic today. He said that the great general had all the symptoms of someone suffering from that illness.

Wish I could have witnessed that debate. But I was only nine then.

I have never, myself, been a big fan of Jackson. Sorry. I think he did a few remarkable feats as a leader (in the Valley Campaign and at Chancellorsville), but I also think he was pretty inconsistent. Lee seemed to be infatuated with him, though. Jackson was fractious and practiced blatant favoritism. He antagonized nearly all of his would-be allies at one time or another by constantly bringing up court martial charges against colleagues and subordinates. And his organizational skills were, at best, amateurish and exasperating.

Even the legend of how Jackson earned his nickname, "Stonewall," has an element of controversy. The accepted party line is that Brig. General Bernard Bee, in trying to rally his shaken troops at First Bull Run (my dad, the inveterate Confederate, would call it Manassas), looked back at Jackson standing immovable with his brigade on the hill behind him and said to an aide, "There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!" Smells a little like Victorian press release language to me.

Another way to imagine the incident might have been this: Bee, frustrated at the lack of response to his repeated pleas to Jackson for support of his crumbling line, was asked by an aide where Jackson was and Bee, gesturing with irritation behind him at the inert brigade hiding in the woods, snarled, "There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall." Meaning, depending on the tone of voice and context, that Jackson wasn't helping at all. We'll never know because Bee, fortunately for Jackson but unfortunately for him, was struck dead at that moment by a Minie bullet and couldn't later comment on the use or misuse of his last words.

No, when it comes to Confederate icons, I must confess I'm more of Longstreet fan. There are aspects to this particular, smaller battle of Jackson's, Cedar Mountain, that reveal the feet-of-clay version of the Great Stonewall. And since it's my blog and my opinion, and I'm doing it to please myself, I'll have fun with it.

So, with that caveat taken care of, let's go have some fun.

Cedar Mountain: Situation about 17:45.

Copyright 2013, Jeffery P. Berry Trust, all rights reserved

The Strategic Situation

The Battle of Cedar Mountain was a quickly decided affair, once it got underway. The battle proper probably didn't take up a full hour. But it is interesting in that it revealed some flaws and strengths of various commanders on both sides, as well as the weaknesses and strengths of the two armies. It also highlighted the importance of weather (particularly hot weather) on operations, the poor state of command and control in both armies, and the strategic use and abuse of cavalry during the Civil War.

Lee, having successfully chased the flumoxable McClellan away from Richmond in the Seven Days Battles, next wished to take the war to the enemy.  He began to move strategically northward toward the great Union logistical base at Manassas. The ultimate outcome of these offensive operations in the summer of 1862, Lee's first strategic campaign to try and end the war, crested a month later at the climatic battle of Antietam (what my dad, the professional Confederate, called Sharpsburg). In many ways, the nature of Cedar Mountain previewed the same characteristics for that momentous battle five weeks later: lack of command and control, the local impulse of battle, the heroism of ordinary soldiers.

Lee entrusted Jackson with nearly 20,000 men and sent him ahead to strike at Union General John Pope's newly created Army of Virginia which was massing northwest of Richmond. Intelligence had revealed that Pope's forces were overly strung out and Lee saw an opportunity to bag one of his corps, 8,000 men, (under Nathaniel Banks) exposed south of Culpeper, Virginia.

In spite of Jackson's disappointingly inert performance during the Seven Days Battles, great things were expected of him now. Lee and the whole South were charmed by the swift and decisive way Stonewall had run rings around the Yankees in the Shenandoah Valley (against this same commander, Banks, in fact). His swift-marching infantry were described as "Jackson's foot cavalry" by the Confederate press, because they moved light and fast, and struck hard and deep.

But this campaign would not show that "Valley Stonewall". Instead, the lethargic Stonewall of First Bull Run and Seven Days was back.

A bad start: Jackson doesn't win any new friends.

Jackson's forces, including two divisions of Charles Winder (a protege of Jackson, promoted over more senior generals to lead his own old division) and Richard Ewell,  and A.P. Hill's huge "Light Division" (seven brigades--almost what would eventually be classed as an entire corps), and a brigade of cavalry under Beverly Robertson, assembled around Orange, Virginia, a few dozen miles southwest of the Federal concentration taking place around Culpeper.

Intelligence indicated that General Banks' corps had led with its chin about 10 miles southwest of Culpeper, north of the Rapidan River, near a local prominence called Cedar Mountain. Lee urged Jackson to leap on this gift from Pope and take out Banks quickly.

Jackson moved, but it wasn't exactly a leap. Nearly all of his forces were south of the Rapidan, over which there were several crossings. Instead of ordering his divisions to move along parallel routes, in mutually supporting columns (as Napoleon would have done), he ordered all three to cross at the same place, using the same narrow road. Traffic jams were inevitable.

Though Hill's big division was closest to the crossing, Jackson sent vague orders to Hill to wait for Ewell's division to cross first. So Hill stood still most of the day of August 8th, his troops trying to stay cool in whatever shade they could find, waiting for Ewell to march by. Unknown to him, Jackson had changed Ewell's march orders sometime that morning, and had him move to another crossing point to the east. He didn't bother relaying that little detail to Hill.

Late in the day of the 8th, while still waiting impatiently for Ewell at Orange, a long column of troops finally showed up, along with Jackson's considerable baggage train, and passed Hill's waiting brigades. It wasn't until that column was halfway past that Hill realized it wasn't Ewell marching by but Winder's division.

Jackson, who never liked Hill to begin with, and who didn't see the need to keep his subordinates informed of his operational plans or changes to them (which happened, apparently, all inside his own head), was furious at Hill. He vowed to press charges (as he did with everyone who misunderstood his implied or non-existent orders). Hill vowed to press counter charges. It was not a good start to their cooperation.

Moreover, Jackson's reputation for his "foot cavalry" was exposed as a sham in this campaign since his baggage trains were so cumbersome they greatly slowed down his progress, clogging the roads and drawing off too many combat troops to guard them.

Heat and enemy cavalry

This August in Virginia was infernally hot. And it took its toll on marching troops. Though 19th century soldiers were used to marching long distances in bad (or no) shoes, wearing wool coats, and carrying fifty shoulder-chafing pounds of equipment, the weather that week was recorded at reaching 100 degrees (F) every afternoon, and not cooling off much at night. I can attest to this. When I visited the battlefield in August 2002 (140 years after the battle), it was also near 100, with almost 100% humidity. I was carrying maybe twenty pounds of photographic equipment, water, and reference books in a backpack as I tramped over the battlefield and though I wasn't wearing an itchy wool coat (a very un-Civil-Warish Hawaiian shirt instead), I could begin to empathize with what those soldiers had to endure. And nobody was trying to kill me (that I was aware of). 

Memoirs and letters from veterans of this battle described dozens of men falling out during the march, with many dropping stone dead from heat exhaustion, at a rate described as anywhere from 10% of each unit to as many as 75%. The latter may have been an exaggeration, but it does indicate that the heat took its toll on morale, which tends to distort negative perception. As another personal anecdote, when I was in college I worked in a summer job on a construction site in Maryland (not too far from this part of Virginia) and the afternoon heat also got up to 100. One day, while we strapping, skinny kids were working up on a metal roof, our supervisor standing over us, a man in his forties, just keeled over stone dead from the heat. It was the first time I'd ever seen anyone die in front of me. After the ambulance took him away, we were allowed to knock off work...after a stern lecture from the site foreman about drinking enough water and taking salt tablets.

So the heat probably reduced not just the marching speed and combat effectiveness of the armies, but the actual numbers as well.

Added to the vexation of sweltering heat, in the nights before the battle, Federal cavalry constantly raided and harassed the Confederate troops. Small numbers of Union horsemen, making hit and run raids, were able to keep most of the entire Rebel army up and on alert--and sleepless--for two nights running. So the men in grey got no rest, starting each day's hot, dusty march weary and punchy. The effect on both morale and fatigue in Jackson's army was a model for how cavalry could be used to disrupt an enemy prior to battle. Though it was the Confederates (under leaders like Jeb Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest) who got the reputation for inspired cavalry operations during the war, the Union cavalry at this stage did a fairly effective and professional job of keeping their enemy on the back foot. They also did a much better job at intelligence gathering than Jackson's cavalry commander, Robertson, who had very little idea of the position, intentions or strength of the Federal forces in front of Culpeper.

And because the threat of Federal cavalry raids on his baggage trains was so distracting to Jackson,  he detailed off as much as 1/3 of all his forces to just guard his wagons. That meant he went into the battle with his pants around his ankles. All this the work of a handful of blue cavalrymen.

The artillery duel while Jackson takes a nap.

About 16:00 on the 9th the first elements of Jackson's force (divisions of Ewell and Winder) began to deploy opposite the Union position just a mile north of Cedar Mountain. Jackson directed Ewell to occupy the heights of Cedar Mountain itself to enfilade and threaten the left flank of the Yankees. Marching up there, Ewell dropped off one of his brigades under Jubal Early in front of the Crittenden Lane in mid-field (see map) to fix the Union center. Winder's brigades came up next to fill in the left. 

While this was going on, Winder and Ewell each deployed their longer guns (Parrott rifles for the most part) to begin a long range artillery duel with the Union batteries on the high ground about 1,300 yards away. Winder's infantry brigades (Garnett, Taliaferro, and Ronald--the old "Stonewall Brigade") deployed on their own hook, occupying ground to the right and left of the Culpeper Road (known later as "The Gate" because it opened from a narrow, woody defile).  Neither Winder (having fun personally aiming cannons at the Yankees) nor Jackson were attentive to the deployment of their infantry. Both Garnett and Ronald ended up getting separated in the woods to the north of the road, and failed to link up with each other. Consequently a large gap opened between Garnett's left flank and Ronald's right. In the next couple hours this would prove to be almost fatal to the Confederates. 

Incredibly, while all this critical deployment was going on, Jackson decided to take a nap on a farmhouse porch near the Crittenden Lane (see map). Some Stonewall-o-phile historians have used his siesta as evidence of Jackson's sang-froid. To me it just seemed irresponsible. To my psychologist dad (a professional Confederate his whole life)  it was an example of Jackson's disconnection from reality. It might have just been the heat. Or it might have been his bad habit of not getting enough sleep the night before. According to Mary Roach, in her hilarious but informative book about the biology of combat, Grunt, Jackson was known to keep himself and his men up for days at a time during his marathon marches, resulting in several battles (Glendale, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, McDowell)  in which he took naps or was reported by witnesses as acting quite irresponsibly--like he was drunk. One military funded sleep research study at UW in Spokane found that for every 24 hours a person goes without sleep, his/her executive function deteriorates by 25%, acting as though they were drunk, until the point where they pass out (or take a compulsory "nap"), also like they were drunk. Jackson was known to be a teetotaler, so it must have been his sleep dysfunction.

At any rate, many tactical mistakes were being made without Jackson there to correct them.

One of those mistakes was Winder's excessive obsession with the artillery duel he had started with the Yankees. For the next hour or so, while his infantry went off on their own through the woods, he wasted his time playing gunner, helping artillerymen lay and fire guns at the enemy. One can only imagine the gratitude of the professional gunners at his help. In his placement of one his batteries (Andrews' battery, where he spent all his remaining time in the battle), he also blundered. Setting it up right in front of the chokepoint known as The Gate, it drew half the Federal fire right down the length of the road behind it--the same road all of the infantry had to march up to deploy. As shells and roundshot flew over Winder's guns, they crashed and bounded down the length of that road. Most of the upcoming regiments ducked into the woods beside the road to avoid them, but even there they were suffering from the shells blowing apart trees and spraying deadly splinters into them. The Union gunners probably had no idea of all this bonus destruction they were wreaking on infantry behind the Confederate guns they were aiming at. This was one of the stupidest mistakes that Winder made. His thoughtless placement of these guns as a magnet for enemy fire caused the needless deaths of scores of his own men. 

View east toward Confederate positions from Union positions at the Mitchell Station Rd. Click to enlarge.

But soon Winder was to be out of it. While the long, pointless gun duel was going back and forth, an unlucky shot (both for him and, as it turned out, the Federals) took him out. He died nastily and painfully over the next couple of hours, his whole left side torn away. Taliaferro, his next in command, was informed of Winder's death, turned his brigade over to his capable brother, took charge of the division, and immediately started to try and fix the misdeployment of Garnett and Ronald's brigades in the woods north of the road. It was almost too late.

Jackson was also awakened and informed of Winder's death. He got up and went to visit his old friend and expressed his gratitude and condolences. But there is no evidence, however, that he tried to take control of the tactical situation. Taliaferro and Early were already doing that on their own. 

Banks attacks.

It should be borne in mind that throughout this battle, Bank's force of about 8,000 was outnumbered two-to-one by Jackson. His commanding officer, Pope, was informed of the Confederate attack and (thanks to the efficiency of the Union cavalry) the size of Jackson's force and was supposedly moving down through Culpeper with the whole of his army. All Banks had to do was pin Jackson in a holding action until the full weight of the Army of Virginia could lumber down on the Rebel and annihilate him. And since it was late in the day, Banks wouldn't have had to hold for long.

But Banks was an impetuous officer with a grudge to settle with Jackson (who had humiliated him repeatedly in the Shenandoah Valley months before). He couldn't wait. About 17:45, almost two hours after the artillery duel had started, he got his two divisions (Auger on the left, Williams on the right) moving in a lunge at the Confederates.

View from Ewell's position on Cedar Mountain looking north toward the left flank of the Union position.

Auger's two brigades (Geary and Prince, only about 3,900) worked their way up to the edge of the huge cornfield filling half the distance to the Crittendon Lane, where the three Confederate brigades (Taliaferro, Early, Thomas), over 5,300 men, lay in wait. The three Rebel batteries in the center switched to canister as the Yankees worked their way forward. Taliaferro and Early, in response, moved their brigades up about 100 yards to start firing at the blue infantry emerging from the high corn.

It was a courageous move for Auger's men, moving across that open field (1,300 yards deep) in the face of long range musketry and artillery. It seemed like a foolhardy thing to do, particularly against superior numbers and with a flank exposed (from Ewell on Cedar Mountain). It was something both sides tried many times during the war (Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga,even as late as Cold Harbor). But the Federals kept on; it was the honorable, manly thing to do. Not the smartest, though. The high corn through which they moved during the first half of the assault somewhat concealed them, but the Rebs knew they were in there. And cornstalks don't stop bullets and shellfire very effectively.

Mid-field looking west toward Confederate positions. This is the view that the oncoming infantry of Auger's division would have seen. There would have been a cornfield here, grown by this time of year as "high as an elephant's eye" to quote Oscar Hammerstein (at least that's how high it was in "Oklahoma")*

 Mid-field, looking east toward Auger's division advancing on Confederate center.

View east from Taliaferro's position. Winder was killed at Andrew's guns.

Miraculously, not that many were hit, even though they were also technically being enfiladed from the guns on Cedar Mountain to their left and, as they emerged from the corn, taking fire from Early's and Taliaferro's regiments in front of them. This may have been a result of the still air and the smoke that clung around the firing guns and regiments, obscuring their visibility. The ground was also undulating, so there were a number of swales the advancing infantry could take cover in; uneven ground makes it difficult to gauge ranging. It should also be kept in mind that during this period, even in the clearest, best of conditions, small arms fire accounted for an average of only 1-2% of bullets fired actually hitting a target (see Hughes' ground-breaking analysis from the 70s, Firepower). So, assuming that Auger's men were out of the corn and within effective rifle range (100 yards, according to Griffith in his statistical study of Civil War battle ranges) for, oh, five minutes, allowing the 5,000 Confederates to bang off 10 shots, one would have expected that of those 50,000 rounds, 500 to 1000 would have hit somebody, with perhaps 33% of those being redundant (two or more bullets hitting the same unlucky man). With the final tally of the battle being 2,300 casualties for Banks' entire force, this feels plausible. Also, not withstanding the theoretical enfilading from the batteries on Cedar Mountain, I'll remind you that these Napoleon guns were still, at 1,200 yards to the extreme left flank of the Union troops, pretty close to the limit of their operation effectiveness.

But I digress...


Meanwhile, on the Federal right, Crawford's brigade (at most only 1,600 men) worked their way through a wood separating them from a wheat field in front the Confederate left (hereinafter known as The Wheatfield). At about 18:00, close to when Auger's division was emerging from the cornfield, Crawford's infantry burst out of the woods, charged across the open, recently harvested field and surprised Garnett's isolated brigade at the edge of woods on the other side (see map above and panoramas below). Though Taliaferro, on taking command of Winder's division, had dispatched another regiment (the 10th Virginia from his own brigade) to fill in Garnett's exposed left, those people had not yet arrived as they were still trying to make their way through the woods (a panorama below the following two shows what being inside those woods was like).

Looking east across the Wheatfield from Garnett's position toward Crawford's brigade. Road in the foreground did not exist in 1862.

Garnett's Virginians were shocked by the sudden appearance of this attack. They had already been confused by their deployment (almost a third of them had been faced south, along the Culpeper Road, with the idea of enfilading a Yankee attack down that way), and nervous that their left was "in the air." Winder's other brigade (the old "Stonewall" under Ronald) was still trying to find its own way through the woods far to the rear and left and had not made contact with the left of Garnett. Also, because Jackson had not taken any care to reconnoiter his left, he had no idea what enemy forces might be moving at him from that direction.

View looking west across the Wheatfield toward the Confederate left from the right of Crawford's start position.
Woods through which Garnett's, Ronald's, Branch's, Archer's and Pender's brigades had to make their way to the Wheatfield on the Confederate left, and in which the hand-to-hand fighting took place between Crawford's and Garnett's people.

Garnett's Confederates got off two ragged volleys (those of the 1st Virginia Battalion on the left went right over the heads of the oncoming Feds) and bolted. As Crawford's men swarmed over the fence and pitched into the retreating Virginians with bayonet and rifle butt, Garnett's entire command began to run south through the woods to escape. This started an avalanche. 

Aware that something bad was happening to their left, the troops in Taliaferro's and Early's brigades in the Confederate center began to waiver themselves as both blue and grey soldiers started running out of the woods onto the Culpeper Road. Crawford's Yankees were by now completely disorganized, but berserk with victory, and bayoneting and snagging prisoners right and left. Taliaferro's brigade broke first, then to their right, Early's people, sensing the panic, also started to break apart. Everyone began running back into the woods away from the chaos on the left. Auger's Federals in the Cornfield saw this and charged forward themselves to join the slaughter.

It looked like Jackson had lost the battle within minutes after it had begun.

Jackson wakes up his public relations staff.

Aware that something terrible was happening to his left, Jackson suddenly came to life. He rode to "The Gate" on his horse, Little Sorel, and drew his sword, something that was supposedly unprecedented for him. Actually, his sword was stuck (rusted in its scabbard from lack of use--no surprise there). So he unbuckled the whole assembly and started waving the sword in its sheath around his head like a baton, exhorting his fleeing men to stand. Descriptions by eyewitnesses later spoke of the awesome power of Jackson's presence; of his calm, stentorian voice reassuring the men that "Jackson is with you." The legend has it that a blue light shone from his eyes and men were reportedly transported by this divine charisma--even, improbably, a Yankee prisoner who, according to one Rebel memoir, began to cheer the enemy general and exhort his captors to rally. In his third hand, Jackson also waved a Confederate flag. Stonewall, if anything, was blessed by the public relations gods.  This rallying moment was repeated and embellished often in the Southern press. In many ways Jackson reminds me of Douglas MacArthur being filmed again and again as he waded ashore in his theatrically staged return to the Philippines in 1944.

But reality was probably somewhat less theatrical. In all the noise, smoke, panic and confusion of the scene, Jackson may have been able to rally a few men in the immediate vicinity of The Gate. But it was the heroic efforts of his field officers like Early, the Taliaferro brothers, and dozens of ordinary captains, lieutenants, and sergeants who stopped the retreat and organized a stand. It was also a huge help that Jackson's latest court martial defendant, A.P. Hill, began to feed his own fresh brigades (as fresh as they could be after marching all day in poaching heat) into the line at this opportune time. 

Hill, seeing what had to be done immediately, moved the brigades of Archer, Branch, and Pender (perhaps 5,600 men) into the void left by Garnett's retreat in the north woods, sweeping up the remnants of disorganized Yankees in the process. Ronald's peripatetic "Stonewall" brigade (less the 27th Virginia, which had been caught up in the previous rout), also found its way around the woods and brushy field to the north of the Wheatfield and managed to put itself in a position to outflank the subsequent Union attack from that direction.

Banks doesn't know when to quit.

Within a few minutes, probably by 18:30, Jackson, Hill, Early, Taliaferro and the stalwart Southern officers managed to put the line back together and stop the Union onslaught, which, had by this time petered out anyway. Auger's survivors fell back east to defend the edge of the Cornfield. What was left of Crawford's brigade was trickling back across the Wheatfield. 

And now, a day late and a dollar short, came an orphan regiment of Williams' division, the 10th Maine, which had been held back by Banks in the minutes before Crawford's assault went in. Apparently Banks was nervous about the vulnerability of a battery near him on the northeast corner of the cornfield, so just before Crawford started on his attack, he helped himself to one of his regiments, the 10th. Crawford must have been furious to lose a quarter of his strength to the whim of his commanding officer at this critical time. Now, after Crawford's attack had shot its bolt and it was coming back, Banks released the borrowed 10th and it hurried to join its brothers, only to find itself exposed alone in the Wheatfield. Crossfire from fifteen regiments of Confederates ripped into it. The brave 10th stood as long as it could, but that wasn't long.

Then followed another desultory attack on the Confederate left as Banks released Williams' second brigade under Gordon (about 800 men in two-and-a-half regiments) to follow the 10th. This half-hearted attempt came far too late to support anyone, and it, in turn suffered the same senseless fate as the 10th Maine. It was shot to pieces from the front and both flanks.

Banks was out of troops. He had a single, tiny brigade of 370 men under Greene on his left, which he needed to fend off the threat from Ewell's 3,600 on Cedar Mountain. But he tried one last, Hail-Mary pass. He ordered his headquarter's cavalry guard, 164 troopers of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, to make a glorious charge against the five Confederate infantry brigades behind their fences on the Confederate left. 

This act, more insane than the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea eight years before, was sublime and probably glorious to witness. But it was a banzai charge, doomed from the start. The poor cavalrymen, undoubtedly aware they were trotting to a suicide mission, gamely charged down the Culpeper Road into the Wheatfield and did a tour of the whole field, presenting their flanks to point-blank fire from the thousands of happy Confederates lining the fences on three sides, like a crowd at a horse race. It was carnage. Unable to reach the infantry behind the fences, the horsemen could only fire pistols and present themselves for casual butchery. Three-quarters of the Pennsylvanians managed to make it back (itself either a miracle, given the volume of close range fire, or an indication of how inaccurate 19th century musketry really was). It achieved nothing and the 40 men and horses killed and wounded died for nothing...well, they died to end slavery and preserve the Union, ultimately...but I meant "nothing" to help Banks turn this particular battle around.

Now Banks was finally done. He'd played all his pieces. Had no reserves. And Pope hadn't shown up yet. He decided to call it a day.

One minute, please.

But Jackson wasn't quite ready to call it a day himself. He had a minute or two before sunset (which was at 18:56) and he wanted the last word in this argument. So, like Wellington at Waterloo, he ordered an all-out charge across the whole line, all 17,000 men in 9 brigades. They swept forward across the Wheatfield, the Cornfield, and down from the slopes of Cedar Mountain onto the retreating Yankees. The Federal infantry still in the Cornfield and Wheatfield just got up and left (except Prince's brigade who held on stubbornly on the Union left and paid dearly for their courage). Jackson's troops swept up hundreds of prisoners and a handful of cannons. Then it got dark.

View from the "brushy field" north of the Wheatfield, where the "Stonewall Brigade" deployed late in the battle.

Now Jackson was ready to call it a day. He had technically won (thanks to Hill, Early, Taliaferro, and a network of courageous, highly competent junior officers) since, in quaint, traditional terms, he was the last man standing on the field of battle. During the night, though, he retreated back over the Rapidan and Pope arrived on the battlefield with the bulk of his army. Pope was a little late to save Banks, who had lost about 2,300 of his original 8,000 men, but enough to retrieve the strategic least until 2nd Bull Run nine days later.

Assessment: This battle was Banks' to lose.

In the Southern press the battle was proclaimed a great Confederate victory, and one more laurel in Jackson's crown. That story persists among many Civil War historians to this day, many of whom say Cedar Mountain was probably Stonewall's finest hour; his quintessential battle. 

In the Northern press it was claimed a great Union victory, in which a stalwart Banks held off a force twice his number and forced Jackson to retreat, just as the latter had forced Banks to retreat up the Valley months before. This was strategically true (though, Banks had retreated from the actual field of battle). And the story preserved both Banks' military reputation (there wasn't much competition at this stage of the war) and, more important, his political career; he went on after the war to win another seat in Congress from Massachusetts.

My own analysis is that Cedar Mountain was a fiasco. Both sides lost. Jackson, it is true, eventually drove Banks from the field itself, but he himself very nearly lost the battle by 18:15 and had it not been for the timely arrival of reinforcements from Hill and the cool presence of mind of his brigade commanders, he would have lost by the end of the day, as well. As it was, the Confederates needed a two-to-one superiority to drive the Federals back from their attack. Not exactly the unstoppable fighting force they liked to think of themselves as, and when it had been often repeated that one Confederate was worth ten Yankees in a stand up fight.

The other advantage that Jackson enjoyed was an idiotic opponent in Banks, who made tactical mistake after mistake. My dog could have beaten Banks. He beat himself. He made, basically six bonehead mistakes.

Banks' Mistakes

1. He attacked when he should have defended. Why he decided to not dig in and hold for time is unfathomable. It was the end of the day. Help was on its way. And he had Jackson pinned.

2. He launched his attacks piecemeal and without mutual support or reserves.

3. He had Auger's division attack across open ground, swept in a crossfire by enemy artillery.

4. He did not seize the high ground of Cedar Mountain when it was vacant, allowing Ewell to dominate and outflank him instead of vice-versa.**

5. He reinforced defeat, sending in handfuls of regiments after the day was clearly lost, and so squandering what little intact reserve he had left.

6. He criminally ordered an "Into the Valley of Death" cavalry charge against an overwhelming and fortified foe. By the mid-19th century, and in the wake of the tragic "Charge of the Light Brigade" at Balaclava eight years before, even the most neophyte, contemporary military pundits could see this was stupid. Still, people loved their thundering cavalry charges.

But Banks was one of those political generals, a species of which the Civil War had far too many. Though he was a total incompetent on the battlefield, he had a long, successful career as a politician (both in Congress and as governor of Massachusetts) both before and long after the war, practically to the turn of the century. Cedar Mountain, ironically, served to paint him as a war hero.

Cedar Mountain also serves as a predictive illustration of the style in which Antietam would be fought five weeks later. That later, far bigger, far bloodier battle would be described by historians as "The Soldiers' Battle" in that neither sides' commander-in-chief seemed to exercise much in the way of overall command and control. Both Lee and McClellan just let the management of that battle fall to their subordinates, who themselves weren't coordinating between each other much at all. Like Cedar Mountain, Antietam would be a series of small, haphazard encounter battles, each attended by the local, on-scene commander as he saw fit. Both Antietam and Cedar Mountain were essentially overgrown bar fights.

Also like Antietam, Cedar Mountain showed that even with an almost complete absence of higher command, each side showed unbelievable courage and ferocity in the face of terrible hardship and certain death. Though the Confederates of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia believed themselves, man-for-man, the superior of any Yankee, the Northern soldier, while more taciturn, proved time and again that he was every bit the fighter the Reb was. That 8,000 blue troops could throw themselves against twice their number of dug-in greys and knock them off their feet was irrefutable proof of that.


* Even though modern corn, according to city boy Oscar Hammerstein, does grow as high as an elephant's eye, my barber (who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin) points out that in the 19th century, before the use of modern fertilizers, irrigation, herbicides, pesticides, and machine farming, corn undoubtedly would have grown much shorter, probably not higher than a man. So the tactical significance of the Cornfield may not have been as I described it. He did also say, though, that mature corn is not so easily knocked down, the stalks being thick as bamboo, and that trying to work your way through it would be unbelievably hot work. So Auger's men were probably thinking, "Whose bright idea was this?" Another thing to consider was that, in this era before machine harvesting, the cornrows would have been planted farther apart than today, to allow for people to work between them.

**It has been correctly pointed out by game designer Richard Barber that Banks' failure to seize Cedar Mountain would not have been a tactical error as the guns (all Napoleons) put up there by Ewell were well out of range of all but the extreme left flank of Auger's attack and certainly of Banks' batteries. That's true. The maximum effective range of a Napoleon was 1630 yards, and most of the action on the battlefield was beyond this. Also (and my pano above doesn't really do this justice--you have to be up there to see for yourself), it was almost impossible to see any of the battlefield from Ewell's reported position in front of the Slaughter house. There is so much vegetation (which may or may not have been there at the time of the battle, but it sure looked like old-growth woods to me) and the elevation is not enough to afford much of a view. I now doubt whether Latimer and Terry fired any of their guns at all during the battle. If this was true, then the error lies with Jackson in squandering 3,200 men and a quarter of his artillery by sending them beyond immediate use. So thank you, Richard. Good observation. And my apologies (on this point) to General Banks (God rest his soul).

War Game Considerations

Heat and Attrition 

One of the most significant operational factors to study in this battle was the heat. Many of the participants described great suffering and loss from the 100 degree temperatures (and, from my own experience in that part of Virginia., probably 100% humidity). Some claimed that units had as many as three-quarters of their regiment fall out or even drop dead during the march. This may have been a perceptual exaggeration, but it is not inconceivable that a significant number would have been reduced. This would mean that at the actual point where troops formed up, many regiments would have been at a fraction of their roll-call strength from the morning.

To account for heat attrition, depending on your game engine, you could provide for an elevated attrition factor for each turn, say 1% loss for each ten minutes (in a strategic game).  At the very least, fatigue costs for movement or combat should be elevated, if your rules account for that.

If your game is a tactical level game and takes place only during the last couple of hours, during the battle proper, another way to account for the heat effect would be to randomly reduce the parade state strengths of your units (say by rolling a die or a randomizing factor).  Since the Confederate troops were the ones doing most of the marching on dusty, dry roads on August 9, one should probably reduce their numbers at a greater rate than the Union forces, who had spent most of that day resting near a creek.

Unit Frontages

As I created the detailed battle map for Cedar Mountain, and applied the footprints of each of the units (based on the reported total strengths of each side), I saw that many of them would not have fit into the space assigned to them (allowing 2 ft of frontage per man in close order). Either they were assembled in deeper formations (3-4 ranks) or their actual strengths when combat started were significantly reduced (see heat attrition above). One of these two situations would explain, for instance, why Garnett's brigade found itself with its left flank in the air. If it had formed up in the traditional two ranks and at full complement, its frontage would have extended clear to the end of the bushy field to the north. So it was either short-handed or stacked deep. Also, Early's and Taliaferro's brigades would not have fit side-by-side from The Gate to Crittenden's Farmhouse in two-rank formations at full complement. They, too, had to have been either short or stacked double. 

There was another anecdotal example of this type of double formation reported at Gettysburg, just prior to Pickett's Charge. The same regiments and brigades that saw action at Cedar Mountain were specifically described as forming up in double lines (half the regimental companies behind each other).  This formation allowed each regimental commander to furnish his own supports from within the regiment, and not have to rely on another command. This may very well have been the practice at Cedar Mountain, sort of a Civil War equivalent to the Napoleonic column-of-attack formation. Stacking up like this, however, would restrict the available firepower to the front, as only the first two ranks could fire safely (subsequent ranks could, however, act as reloaders).

Special Cavalry Rules

If playing Cedar Mountain as a multi-day, campaign game, the use of cavalry can make all the strategic difference. On a two map version (Similar to the AH Midway game design system, or Battleship), you can use cavalry patrol markers to seek out and discover enemy units. The maps could be gridded and each side would have an agreed number of cavalry "recon" markers to move. As in Midway, each side can call out certain grid coordinates for inspection and the opponent must disclose the number and identities of the occupying units adjacent to those hexes (or squares).

Night cavalry raids can also be used in a strategic game to add attrition costs. Instead of combat costs, a raid on a camped unit at night can take fatigue costs (or attrition, see Heat Attrition above), simulating keeping everybody up all night.

Cavalry can also be used to burn or blow up bridges. For example, a cavalry unit would spend a certain number of turns or time on a bridge and then start rolling a die (or activate a digital probability algorithm). Repairing or building a bridge, likewise, would take an engineering unit to occupy the river for a certain number of turns or hours, rolling die after that to see if the bridge is complete.

Sandtable Model

Shortly after I visited the site of Cedar Mountain in 2002, I reproduced a model of the battle on my own 4'x8' sandtable, using 5 mm figures (1:350 scale). While gratifying to build and look at, it was also a fun wargame venue. The groundscale of the model itself was 1:2400, 1 ft =800 yds, which meant that each regiment (using 1:350 scale figures) was stylistically represented by 50-60 figures to measure out the actual footprint of the unit.

It was also fun to run several war game simulations on this model using my own game engine, in which I tested some of the variables mentioned by historians like Krick. Indeed, in some versions, I had Banks remain on the defensive while Jackson attacked, and it was the Confederates who were consistently devastated by Federal artillery and musketry as they emerged, disorganized, from the Cornfield and woods on the east side.

Cedar Mountain sandtable model looking from Jackson's positions east toward Union side.

 Looking from Union side, southeast across Cornfield toward The Cedars in the distance
  Looking south from Union right toward Cedar Mountain. Cornfield is on the right in the middle distance.

How to find Cedar Mountain

On Google Maps, enter Culpeper, VA. Cedar Mountain battlefield is about 6 miles southwest on U.S. 15. Driving there from Washington D.C. takes about two hours, heading west on I-66 and then southwest into Virginia on U.S. 29 past Bull Run.

When I visited the site in 2002, the battlefield was fairly unchanged from the photographs taken in the 19th century. The James Madison Highway (U.S. 15) followed roughly the route of the Culpeper-Orange Pike. But except for a large, modern farm on the site of the Cornfield, the battlefield was largely undeveloped and you could walk across the same ground as those soldiers did (getting permission from the property owners, of course). It now looks, based on Google Maps satellite images, like there is much more development on the site, particularly on the Confederate side where a fairly large commercial/industrial park has gone up on the ground where Winder was killed and Taliaferro's brigade stood. Kind of sad (especially as I write this on Memorial Day).


The primary reference I relied on for this battle post was Robert Krick's excellent and fanatically detailed account about Jackson at Cedar Mountain. Other works, though, have allowed me to take a parallax view on Jackson, on the battle itself, on the personalities involved, and on the nature of combat during the American Civil War. 

Krick, Robert K., Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain,  University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, 1990, ISBN 0-8078-2887-9

Bowers, John, Stonewall Jackson: Portrait of a Soldier, Avon Books, New York, 1989, ISBN 0-380-71168-8

Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative, Vol 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville, (p.596-602) Vintage Books, New York, 1986, ISBN 0-394-74623 (v.1)

Hess, Earl, The Union Soldier in Battle, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 1997, ISBN 0-7006-0837-0

Griffith, Paddy, Battle Tactics of the Civil War, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1989, ISBN 0-300-04247-7

Press, London, 1974, SBN 85368-229-1

Roach, Mary, Grunt The Curious Science of Humans at War, 2016, W.W. Norton, New York, ISBN 978-0-393-35437-9    A fascinating and hilarious synopsis of current and past science of people under combat conditions. The chapters on sleep deprivation and heat are particularly relevant to Cedar Hill.

Orders of Battle

These OOBs and unit strengths are extrapolated from Krick.   Most of the regimental strengths are averaged given the overall reported manpower of each army as a whole. A few, with more specific strengths, were taken directly from Krick's narrative. Unless a unit was specifically called out in his book as having a definitive strength at the time of battle, I have left the approximate unit strength as it probably was during morning roll call. One can reduce these numbers proportionately to fit your game (see Heat and Attrition notes above).

I have not included brigades that were not near the battlefield (almost half of Hill's division, for instance) or detached back across the Rapidan to guard Jackson's baggage (Lawton's brigade and Robertson's Confederate cavalry).

Confederate Order of Battle

BLE> <
JACKSON     17,538 23    
EWELL I   5,583 14    
Early   Center 2,125      
13th VA     400   10 Rifles
31th VA     400   10 Rifles
25th VA     400   10 Rifles
58th VA     400   10 Rifles
52nd VA     125   4 Rifles
12th GA   det fm Trimble 400   10 Rifles
Trimble   Cedar Mt 1,200      
15 th AL     400   10 Rifles
21st NC     400   10 Rifles
21st GA     400   10 Rifles
Forno   Cedar Mt 2,000      
5th LA     400   10 Rifles
6th LA     400   10 Rifles
7th LA     400   10 Rifles
8th LA     400   10 Rifles
14th LA     400   10 Rifles
Courtney   In Center 258 14    
Dement   Near Cedars 36 2 1 Napoleon
Dement 2   Crittenden House 36 2 1 Napoleon
Brown   Near Cedars 18 1 1 10# Parrott
d'Aquin   Crittenden House 72 3 1 Napoleon
Terry   On Cedar Mt 24 2 1 Napoleon
Latimer   On Cedar Mt 72 4 1 Napoleon
A.P.HILL     6,439 4    
Thomas   Crittenden House 769      
35th GA     400   10 Rifles
45th GA     156   10 Rifles
49th GA     213   10 Rifles
Branch   Left 2,000      
28th NC     400   10 Rifles
33th NC     400   10 Rifles
18th NC     400   10 Rifles
37th NC     400   10 Rifles
7th NC     400   10 Rifles
Archer   Left 2,000      
1st TN     400   10 Rifles
19th GA     400   10 Rifles
5th AL     400   10 Rifles
7th TN     400   10 Rifles
14th TN     400   10 Rifles
Pender   Left 1,600      
16th NC     400   10 Rifles
22nd NC     400   10 Rifles
34th NC     400   10 Rifles
38th NC     400   10 Rifles
Walker   In Center 70 4    
Pegram     36 2 1 10# Parrott
Hardy     34 2 1 10# Parrott
WINDER 3   5,516 5    
Ronald   On far left 1,442      
4th VA     400   10 Rifles
2nd VA     400   10 Rifles
5th VA     519   10 Rifles
33rd VA     160   10 Rifles
27th VA     363   10 Rifles
Taliaferro   In center 2,088      
14th GA   det fm Thomas 400   10 Rifles
47 AL     438   10 Rifles
37 VA     400   10 Rifles
23 VA     400   10 Rifles
48 AL     450   10 Rifles
Garnett   On left 1,920      
10 VA   det fm Taliaferro 400   10 Rifles
1st VA Bn     400   10 Rifles
42 VA     540   10 Rifles
48 VA     400   10 Rifles
21 VA     180   10 Rifles
Andrews   At "The Gate" 66 5    
Poague     19 2 1 10# Parrott
      15 1 1 Napoleon
Carpenter     15 1 1 10# Parrott
Caskie     16 1 1 10# Parrott

Union Order of Battle

    Position Strength Guns Coys Equipment
BANKS     8,084 42    
WILLIAMS 1   2,928 0    
Crawford   Wheatfield 1,976 0    
3rd WI     216   6 Rifles
5th CT     440   10 Rifles
28th NY     440   10 Rifles
46th PA     440   10 Rifles
10th ME     440   10 Rifles
Gordon   Right 952 0    
2nd MA     440   10 Rifles
27th IN     440   10 Rifles
Zouaves d'Afrique     72   2 Rifles
AUGER 2   4,292 0    
Geary   Right Cornfield 1,760 0    
5th OH     440   10 Rifles
66th OH     440   10 Rifles
29th OH     440   10 Rifles
7th OH     440   10 Rifles
Prince   Left Cornfield 2,160 0    
111th PA     440   10 Rifles
3rd MD     440   10 Rifles
102nd NY     440   10 Rifles
109th PA     440   10 Rifles
8th US     200   5 Rifles
12th US     200   5 Rifles
Greene   Left Rear Reserve 372 0    
1st DC     186   10 Rifles
78th NY     186   10 Rifles
2   700 42    
Robinson     100 6 1 3" Rifle
McGilvery     100 6 1 Napoleon
Best     100 6 1 Napoleon
Reynolds     100 6 1 Napoleon
Cothran     100 6 1 Napoleon
Roemer     100 6 1 3" Rifle
Knap     100 6 1 3" Rifle
Bayard Cav   164 0    
1st Pennsylvania Cav     164   4 Sharps

Copyright 2013, Jeffery P. Berry Trust, all rights reserved. No part of this post may be used for republication or re-posting without documented permission of the Jeffery P. Berry Trust. However, feel free to link to this site as a resource from related sites.