Future President Rutherford B. Hayes’ After Action Reports on the Battles of Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek

Gen Rutherford B. HayesOhio native and future 19th President of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes was a 38 year old Cincinnati lawyer when he was appointed major of the 23rd Ohio Infantry in June of 1861. Hayes was one of two future presidents in the 23rd Ohio; William McKinley, the 25th President also served in this same unit.

Hayes was wounded at the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland on September 15th, 1862. In the summer of 1864, Hayes was placed in command of a brigade in Major General George Crook’s Army of West Virginia. The brigade included the 23rd and 36th Ohio, plus the 5th and 13th West Virginia infantry regiments. The Army of West Virginia saw considerable action in Major General Philip Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign against General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army in the late summer and fall of 1864.

On September 19th, Hayes assumed command of the Army of West Virginia’s 2nd Division when the division’s commanding officer was wounded at the Battle of Winchester, or Opequon as it is also called. The division consisted of two infantry brigades; besides his own 1st Brigade, the division’s 2nd Brigade consisted of the 34th and 91st Ohio, and 9th and 14th West Virginia infantry regiments. Over the course of the next month, Hayes commanded the division in the Battles of Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek. Here are his official reports for those battles, all Union victories. Note that he often refers to his West Virginia regiments as the “Ninth Virginia” or Fourteenth Virginia”, etc. when they were indeed West Virginia units. Also note that Hayes’ report on Cedar Creek was filed with fellow future president McKinley.

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 day, 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 battle-field 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 further 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 knew 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 its 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 organizations 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 and at dusk camped south of the town, having passed from the extreme right of the infantry line of our army to a point beyond 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. Lt. Duval, Ninth Virginia., commanding division, severe; Col. 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; Fourteenth 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 while bravely and efficiently discharging their duty.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. B. HAYES,
Colonel, Commanding. Capt.

P. G. BIER,
Assistant Adjutant-General.
—–
HEADQUARTERS SECOND INFANTRY DIVISION,
ARMY OF WEST VIRGINIA,
Near Cedar Creek, Va., October 14, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that the Second Infantry Division, Army of West Virginia, at Fisher’s Hill, about 3.30 p.m. September 22, 1864, succeeded, under the personal direction of Major-General Crook, in gaining a position on the east side of North Mountain on the left and rear of the rebel works. The division was formed on the right of Colonel Thoburn, the Second Brigade in advance, supported by the First Brigade, fifteen or twenty yards in rear. The position was hardly reached before the rebels, aware that a force was moving in the woods, began to throw shell in or near our ranks, inflicting some injury. Our line advanced, and soon coming hi sight of the rebel works, charged and captured them with a shout. The moment the rebels discovered that we had turned their left and captured a battery on that flank, they seemed to give up all hope of holding their works and fled in confusion toward the turnpike on their right. Our men followed them as rapidly as possible, sweeping everything before them for a distance along the works of perhaps three miles. The pursuit was kept up until dark, when the division was halted on the road to Woodstock farther to the front than any other infantry of the army.

The loss of the division was as follows: First Brigade–killed, 2; wounded, 27; total, 29. Second Brigade–killed, 5; wounded, 48; missing, 1; total 54. Total loss–killed, 7; wounded, 75; missing, 1. Aggregate, 83.

I regret to have to announce that Lieut. R. N. Hess, Fourteenth Virginia, was killed while bravely and efficiently doing his duty.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. B. HAYES,
Colonel, Commanding.

Capt. P. G. BIER,
Assistant Adjutant-General.
—–
HEADQUARTERS SECOND INFANTRY DIVISION,
ARMY OF WEST VIRGINIA,
Near Cedar Creek, Va., October 24, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that on the morning of the 19th instant the division under my command had about 2,381 men for duty; of that number 287 were on picket, one large regiment of the Second Brigade (Ninety-first Ohio), numbering 378, was absent guarding cattle below Middletown, and one regiment, Ninth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, was camped near breast-works which they were throwing up about three-quarters of a mile southeast of my camp, leaving in camp only about 1,445 men. My division was camped as a reserve about a mile north from the line of breast-works, which overlooks the mouth of Cedar Creek, and which were occupied by the First Division (Colonel Thoburn). At early daylight we were notified by Lieutenant Ballard, acting assistant adjutant-general, of Colonel Thoburn’s staff, that the enemy were already driving the First Division from their position. My command was immediately ordered under arms and soon after formed in line Of battle, under the direction of Brevet Major-General Crook, Major-General Wright also being present. My right rested at a point about forty yards north of the woods on the left of the Valley pike, east of army headquarters, and my line extended northwardly, toward a brigade under command of Colonel Kitching, which was forming near my left. The line was formed and the men ordered to lie down. There was a heavy fog which concealed objects a little distance off, but firing in our front and both on our right and left flanks told plainly enough that the rebels were rapidly advancing. At this time an order was received from Major-General Wright to move by the right flank and close up on the Nineteenth Corps, whose left was about 100 yards from my right. While this order was being communicated to the brigade and regimental commanders, the brigade on my left was observed to be broken or falling back, and a large number of fugitives, either from the First Division (Colonel Thoburn), or from the brigade of the Nineteenth Corps, in the woods on our right, came pouring past and through the right of my line; at the same time the rebel fire opened on us in front and on both flanks. The line began to fall back, many supposing, as is said, that the order was to that effect. Every effort was made by all the officers, whom I had an opportunity to notice, to prevent confusion and a retreat. In every regiment a considerable number of men continued to contest the advance of the enemy with determination, and succeeded in delaying them until time enough was given to get off all trains and property from our own camp and from the camps immediately on our right and at army headquarters. The main body of the division fell back, until they reached a ridge where a part of the Sixth Corps had begun to form. I directed my command to form on the left of this line and succeeded in firmly establishing a considerable part of them as directed. Afterward a part of the Sixth Corps, under General Getty, formed on our left, thus forming a line facing up the valley about a mile and a half north of Middletown, with the left resting near the Valley pike. We remained here under orders until about 3 p.m., when an officer of the Sixth Corps informed me that their lines, both on my right and left, were about to advance, and that a general advance of the whole line had been ordered. I told him that I had received no orders to advance, but that in the absence of orders I should advance with the rest of the line. About five minutes afterward, and before any order to advance had been given, I received orders from Brevet Major-General Crook to move my command to the left of the Valley pike and to join-the First Division, which was there formed. The order was obeyed, and the division remained in the position taken until ordered forward on the left of the Valley pike, when we rapidly marched as far as Cedar Creek, from which point, at about dusk, we were ordered into camp, and occupied the same ground we had left in the morning.

The loss in the division is as follows: First Brigade–killed, 23; wounded, 102; total, 125. Second Brigade–killed, 3; wounded, 52; missing, 31; total, 86. Total—killed, 26; wounded, 154; missing, 31. Aggregate, 211.

Among the killed was Lieut. Col. James R. Hall, Thirteenth West Virginia Volunteers, who had not yet recovered from wounds received in a previous battle, and might well have been excused from returning to duty for many weeks; but with a noble heroism and devotion to duty characteristic of the man he would not be absent when a battle was in prospect. He was hit by two balls, either of which would have killed him, early in the action, in the extreme front, where the danger was greatest. No braver or truer man fell on that day.

Inclosed find copies of brigade commanders’ reports.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. B. HAYES,
Colonel, Commanding.

Capt. WILLIAM McKINLEY, Jr.,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

In the fall of 1864, Hayes, who was still in the army, was elected as a Republican to the House of Representatives. He took his seat in Congress in 1865. Hayes later served as Governor of Ohio, and ran for president in 1876. In the presidential Presidident Rutherford B. Hayeselection, Hayes lost the popular vote to Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden, but Tilden was one vote short of the number of electoral votes needed for election. However, the electoral votes in Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina were in dispute. Eventually, a commission consisting of eight Republicans and seven Democrats was established to decide the outcome of the disputed votes. In the end the commission awarded all the electoral votes to Hayes, giving him 185 to Tilden’s 184. Democrats threatened to filibuster, and a last minute deal was brokered giving southern Democrats certain concessions, the most significant being the removal of remaining Federal troops in the south, essentially ending Reconstruction.

Hayes, who stated he would serve only one term (1877-1881), kept his promise, retiring to Ohio after his term was up. He died January 17th, 1893 at age 70.

Sources:

From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864
by Jeffry D. Wert

Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders
by Ezra J. Warner

The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. XLIII, Part 1.

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