The Aftermath of Cedar Creek: Union Rejoicing Amid Grim Realities

by Douglas Kramer

Edmund Miles1

Edmund Miles (Massachusetts Historical Society)

The victory of Sheridan’s army at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864 was widely celebrated in the North. Some historians credit Sheridan’s victories in the Shenandoah Valley, along with Sherman’s in Georgia, as providing a tonic to a war-weary population in the North, thus helping ensure Lincoln’s re-election in November 1864.

Of course, even Sheridan’s decisive win at Cedar Creek came at a cost – some 5,665 killed, wounded, or missing. Nowadays this seems a grim but sterile statistic, but there were thousands of family members who would never again see their father, husband, brother, or relatives again. One of those wounded was First Sergeant Edmund Miles of the Third Massachusetts Cavalry (dismounted). The story of Miles and his family gives one example of how a mixture of joy and relief that the war seemed to be coming to an end, was at the same time tempered by personal suffering.

Miles was born 1825 in Halesworth, England. When still a young boy, his family moved to Montreal. It was in Montreal that Edmund learned the printing trade, and also where he married Elizabeth Cribb in May 1848. Shortly thereafter the young couple moved to the U.S. and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Edmund continued to work as a printer. By 1862, their family had grown with the addition of six children – four boys and two girls. A third girl, Georgina, would be born in 1865. As an older family man, Edmund might have been able to avoid military service altogether, but he and his wife believed in the Northern cause, so he enlisted in the army in August 1862 for three years’ service.

Edmund’s regiment was originally designated the 41st Massachusetts infantry. It was sent to join General Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf in Louisiana, and later became part of the 19th Army Corps. Miles, who at age 36 was probably one of the older enlisted men, was promoted to sergeant in November 1862. In June 1863, however, the unit was transformed into the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry, as Banks was short of mounted troops. Miles was wounded in April 1864 during a cavalry engagement at Muddy Bayou in the latter phases of Banks’ Red River campaign. The wound seems not to have been serious, as he was back on duty in May.

By the end of June 1864, the 3rd was converted back into an infantry unit, much to the dismay of its soldiers. In a letter to his wife, Miles said many of his colleagues were seeking to be transferred to the navy, “for they say they will never serve as infantry, to have to carry a gun and march 15 to 20 miles a day on a march, and I don’t blame them.” Miles quipped he couldn’t see joining the navy himself, as he was prone to sea-sickness.

In July, the 3rd Massachusetts, along with the bulk of the 19th Corps, was transferred to Virginia. The units were sent briefly to the trenches outside Petersburg, but when Confederate General Jubal Early threatened Washington, the 19th Corps was rushed off to the capital. Eventually it became part of General Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah.

Like many Union soldiers, Miles was impressed by the Shenandoah Valley. On September 26, 1864, he wrote his wife from Harrisonburg, “This part of the country is most beautiful; it surpasses any that I have seen yet. It is nothing but a continuous series of rich farms, with every ten or fifteen miles is a town, and on each side is mountain after mountain, hill after hill.”

Miles’ luck, however, would run out at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, where he suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. He would be among the 77 killed and wounded casualties suffered by the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry (dismounted). Miles recovery was slow. A surgeon wanted to amputate his leg, but Miles reportedly dissuaded him by threatening the doctor with a revolver. He kept his leg, but suffered from the injury for the rest of his life. Although his wife’s letters from November express the hope that he might be able to return home soon, in mid-January 1865 she visited him in the hospital in Philadelphia and he was still not well.

Miles’ superiors in the regiment nominated him for a promotion to second lieutenant in November 1864. The promotion was never confirmed by the War Department, perhaps due to the severity of his injuries. By March 1865, he had been transferred to a hospital closer to home, in Readville, Massachusetts (now a neighborhood in Boston). In the end, Miles was mustered out as a first sergeant on June 14, 1865 – the surgeon’s notes on his discharge papers indicate he was not eligible to reenlist, as Miles’ leg was lame due to damage to the tibia caused by necrosis.

Still, during his convalescence, his family did their best to maintain his morale. On December 23, 1864, his 15-year-old son Edmund sent him a letter, enclosing a “Reward of Merit” given him by his teacher. In the letter, “Eddie” wrote, “I saw a piece of poetry in a paper the other day that I thought you would like. It is entitled ‘The Battle of Cedar Creek’ and reads as follows:

The Battle of Cedar Creek

Old Early camped at Fisher’s Hill

Resolved some Yankee blood to spill;

He chose his time when Phil was gone,

The Yankee camp to fall upon.

[Refrain]

Get out of the way says Gen. Early

I’ve come to drive you from the Valley

<>

At night, life [sic] thief, of sense bereft,

He marched his troops around our left;

His orders strict unto his boys,

To nothing take t’would make a noise.

While they were on their mission bent,

We Yanks were sleeping in our tents;

Until the Rebs with rousing volley,

Warned us to sleep was death and folly.

[Refrain]

Old Early carried out his plan,

Surprising Crook and his command,

Who had not time their lines to form,

So sudden came the rebel storm.

Now when the Eighth Corps all had run,

Old Early thought it jovial fun;

But Gen. Grover, (God bless his name)

Said he would help them play the game.

[Refrain]

He formed a line the pike along,

To check Old Early and his throng,

And he held the Rebs at bay

Till he was flanked from every way.

This gave the Sixth Corps time to form

Who bravely faced the rebel storm,

Till the Nineteenth Corps had time to rally

To stop the rebels in the valley.

[Refrain]

Now the Johnnies thought the victory won,

And their usual pillaging begun,

Robbing the dead and wounded too,

As none but Southern bloods can do.

Now when the day was almost lost,

God sends a reinforcing host.

The host he sends is but a man,

But that’s the noble Sheridan.

[New refrain]

Now turn your tune says he to Early,

You’ve come to[o] late to get the valley.

On, on he comes with lightning speed,

Crying who hath done this awful deed,

He’d better fare ‘neath southern skies,

Who does my sleeping camp surprise.

Get out of the way says Phil to Early

You’ve come too late to get the valley.

Ah, there another word is heard,

And Liberty’s the rallying word;

And every heart is filled with pride,

To see their gallant leader ride.

Saying form quick and we’ll the fight renew,

And see what right with wrong can do,

By night our camp we will regain,

And vengeance have for these they’ve slain.

Then orders flew from left to right

And glorious was the evening sight,

The rebels flew ‘’mid the cannon’s roar,

Losing all they’d gained and thousands more.”

The author of this bit of doggerel is not known, although from its viewpoint, it appears to been written by someone in the 19th Corps, possibly someone in Grover’s division. To be fair, the author’s praise of Brigadier General Cuvier Grover’s actions in the battle was not echoed by all. Unlike Crook’s Army of Western Virginia, whom the Confederates hit first, Grover’s men were not surprised in their tents. They were up and under arms when the Confederate attack was launched, as Grover’s division was slated to conduct a reconnaissance in force that morning. When he heard the firing of Early’s pre-dawn attack, Grover, in perhaps an understandable first reaction, ordered his men into their entrenchments facing south along Cedar Creek. Not realizing in the fog, confusion, and darkness that the Confederate attack was coming from the east, Grover’s order was, at least in hindsight, a mistake, for it exposed his left flank to Early’s attack.

Grover, and 19th Corps commander William Emory, soon realized their predicament. They then faced the very difficult task of repositioning the 19th Corps to face east while they were experiencing a strong Rebel attack. Like Crook’s Army of Western Virginia before it, in a little more than an hour, the 19th Corps was routed.

Nonetheless, the poem (which very well may be a song lyric) does exemplify the joy and pride Northerners felt over the victory at Cedar Creek. This was especially so as the Confederates had scored a great success in the first part of the battle, only to be chased from the field when Sheridan launched a devastating counter-attack in the afternoon.

Presumably, Edmund Jr. thought it might cheer up his father, who was still lying in the hospital. The large number of songs that came out during the Civil War, be they patriotic or sentimental, helped bolster and assuage the emotions of those both on the battlefields and on the home front. Since there are no remaining letters from Edmund Sr. from this period, we cannot tell if he agreed with the brash patriotic sentiments of the poem his son had sent him.

After the war, Edmund returned to Cambridge and resumed his work as a printer and compositor for John Wilson & Sons (later the Cambridge University Press), until his retirement in 1896. He was an active member of veterans’ and charitable organizations and died in 1899 in Hingham, Massachusetts. Sadly, only one of Miles’ four sons survived to full adulthood. Edmund Jr. (“Eddie”) died of heart disease in 1870 at the age of 20.

Note: Douglas Kramer is a guest contributor to this blog, a Civil War enthusiast, and a friend. Doug served 29 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, and is now retired.  He lives part of the time in the Shenandoah Valley and is working on a biography of Union General Cuvier Grover, who served under General Sheridan.

References:

– Edmund Miles Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, available online at

http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0375?smid=b1-f9

– James K. Ewer, The Third Massachusetts Cavalry in the War for the Union (Maplewood, MA: The William G. J. Perry Press, 1903), available online at

https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006255531

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s