The 2nd South Carolina Infantry Regiment was mustered into service on April 9, 1861, just days before the commencement of the Civil War. With Joseph Kershaw serving as its first commander, the regiment spent their first few moments of service on Morris Island helping to build fortifications in the shadow of Fort Sumter. With the coming of the war, however, the unit headed north to fight with the Army of Northern Virginia in nearly all of its battles, from First Manassas through the Siege of Petersburg.
In August of 1864, though, the 2nd South Carolina, as part of General Kershaw’s Division, was sent north with General George Anderson’s command to reinforce Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley. The change of venue would certainly have been a reprieve from the perils of trench warfare. The regiment’s visit would be brief; but they would fight in several skirmishes before their return to General Lee’s Army on September 13.
Following Early’s defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester, however, General Anderson’s command was ordered back to the Shenandoah Valley. They would reach the valley on September 26th, by way of Swift Run Gap. The 2nd South Carolina Infantry would arrive in time to witness “the burning” of the valley by General Philip Sheridan’s army. Their return would also coincide with the last great battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley.
On October 7, Brigadier General James Connor was given command of the 2nd South Carolina’s brigade. The unit was still part of Kershaw’s Division. The troop would fight in a costly skirmish on October 13, at Hupp’s Hill just north of Strasburg. The South Carolinians would ultimately force two of General Thoburn’s brigades back to their camps at Cedar Creek. General Connor would be struck in the leg by a shell fragment, which would put him out of action for months. Major James Goggin would takeover command of the brigade.
Based on intelligence gained at Hupp’s Hill, and on suggestions made by his subordinates, General Early now decided on a plan to attack General Sheridan’s legions in their camps at Cedar Creek. The attack would require exact timing on the part of multiple commands. Kershaw’s Division would play a critical role in its success, or in its failure.
Just before midnight Kershaw began his movement toward Bowman’s Mill Ford on Cedar Creek. When they splashed across the stream at 4:00 AM the area was dark and cloaked in a dense fog. The Carolinians pushed up the hill past the Hite farm to the edge of Thoburn’s defensive works. Here they lingered, awaiting their call to action.
About 5:30 Colonel James Simms’ Georgia Brigade led off the attack “screaming the rebel yell.” The Federals put up negligible resistance but the shock of the attack was overwhelming. The 2nd South Carolina collided directly with the 11th West Virginia and many prisoners were scooped up. Thoburn’s men were quickly routed.
Unfortunately, the attack’s “momentum slackened.” Captain David Dickert, the veteran who authored the history of the South Carolina Brigade, remembered: “Our ranks soon became almost as much disorganized as those of the enemy.” The attackers were quickly overcome by hunger and many of them stopped to “plunder the Union camps.”
In the midst of their success the regiment suffered many casualties. Major Benjamin Clyburn, who currently commanded the 2nd South Carolina, was struck by a bullet in the left thigh. The impact fractured Clyburn’s femur and forced him to relinquish command. There is no written record of who took control of the regiment in his place.
Though brigade commander, Major Goggin, lost control of a significant number of his men, most pushed on into the flank of Emery’s XIX Corps. At this same time General John Gordon’s men began their attack from the east, having crossed the Shenandoah River during the overnight. Added to this was the weight of Gabriel Wharton’s Division, the addition of which would soon cause the collapse of the XIX Corps’ defenses.
Map Showing the Confederate Assault at Cedar Creek
The 2nd South Carolina continued to push north along the “abandoned Federal trenches toward Meadow Brook.” “Riding the high tide of surprise and good fortune, the Confederates had pulled off the difficult task of merging converging columns.” With all their forces now concentrated all the confederates had to do was to continue their thrust. Triumph was within their grasp.
Among the regiments in the XIX Corps that were in danger of being routed by Kershaw’s Division was the 29th Maine Infantry. The regiment was part of Edwin Davis’ Brigade in McMillan’s Division of the XIX Corps. Adjutant John Gould recalled: “Mingled with the jargon of drums and bugles, was the rattling of the skirmishers of our brigade and the VI Corps.” “There was no mistaking these sounds, they meant a battle.”
With the sudden onrush of rebel troops, the campgrounds of the VIII and XIX Corps, according to John Gould, “were soon in possession of the enemy, excepting the little corner where our 1st Brigade had been stationed, and soon we were moving over into the fog and smoke to defend this remote position.” Though ordered by General Dwight to return to their campground, disobeying the order saved the regiment from “utter annihilation.”
In due time the 29th Maine Infantry realized that there were squads of the enemy all around them. Major Nye, who commanded the regiment, ordered the men to stand and fire. “It was a fine volley, and as few of you noticed its effects from where you stood, I am happy to tell you that we who were with Col. Davis in another part of the field could see the rebels scampering back before it at a pleasing pace.” The regiment fired “four or five rounds, and then Major Nye received the order to fall back.” It is very possible the 2nd South Carolina had, in part at least, been a target of this Maine regiment.
Soon a second order came to Major Nye ordering him to retreat. The regiment was “in a rather critical position.” Nye yelled: “By the right of companies to the rear.” “We ran as fast as legs could carry us down the hill to the west and up the next slope until we had gone perhaps 500 yards.” Nye ordered a halt and reformed the line. Here a few more rounds were discharged at the rebels now positioning themselves on Stoney Hill.
As the 2nd South Carolina reached Stoney Hill they soon came under fire from men “posted on bluffs across the valley of Meadow Brook to the north.” In all likelihood the fire referred to originated from the 29th Maine, though with the fog and smoke nobody can be certain. Kershaw’s men crossed the brook and “pivoted to face north.”
Advance of the 2nd South Carolina Shown in Far Left Movement Trace
Meanwhile the 29th Maine retreated to an area know as the Peach Orchard. “It was a broad, open field of red earth, which the 6th Corps boys had robbed and tramped over for a week until it was almost as smooth as a road, and absolutely shelterless.” From here the Maine boys “fired five-ten-fifteen rounds” and still no order came for them to retire to a more protected spot.
Major Nye, who commanded the 29th, was soon struck by a bullet to his teeth and thrown from his horse. Command of the regiment fell upon Captain Whitmarsh. The soldiers began to notice “their little pile of cartridges grow smaller.” Still, “no order to retire, but time was needed in the rear and so we suffered still to battle on.”
When orders finally came from corps command to withdraw, the 29th Maine retreated with the remnants of their brigade to General Emory’s line of defense. Kershaw’s Division, in company with the 2nd South Carolina, continued their pursuit though not as aggressively as before. Gould noted: “The rebel infantry did not advance far after we retreated from the peach orchard.” Soon orders arrived and once again the regiments retreated to the rear. It was about 10 AM.
On the east side of the battlefield General Early launched his assault against Getty on Cemetery Hill. The fighting was severe but Early was unable to dislodge Union forces there. Though the fighting went on for more than an hour nobody was able to declare victory. By 10 AM the fighting slowed and the two armies entered into the period that would be known as “the fatal halt.”
Meanwhile, General Sheridan had rejoined his army. Sheridan had ridden his horse from Winchester south to the sound of the guns. Soon word came down the line: “Sheridan has arrived, and he says that we’ve got to go back to our camps.” Little by little he began to rally his men, ordering them to form a line about a mile northwest of Middletown. It was his intention to coordinate a counterattack with the patched-up remnants of the VI and XIX Corps. He intended to use his cavalry to swoop around both flanks in an attempt to trap the retreating rebels.
“Gen. Dwight sent orders for us to keep together – we understood that he meant for us to run for the men ahead! And didn’t we run? It was down hill.” “Of all the flying and panic on our side in the morning, there was nothing that we saw like this flight of the rebels from the left and center of their army.”
Map Depicting General Sheridan’s Counterattack.
The force of the Union counterattack was undeniable. The Confederate line quickly started to dissolve. Gordon’s brigades on the left of the line “began to crumble like dominos.” The 2nd South Carolina, with its brigade, retreated about a half mile and formed line along the Old Forge Road. Ramseur’s Division with Humphreys’ Brigade joined with them. Here they held up the Federal attack for more than thirty minutes.
Captain Lorenzo Dow Stacy, a member of the 29th Maine, soon found himself in the forefront of Sheridan’s counterattack. Stacy was on horseback encouraging the men of Company B forward. According to Captain Stacy: “Soon after our several charges upon the rebel line in our front, and upon their flanking party on our right, I discovered a rebel making his way across the field at our right, and towards the Creek, with what I took to be a flag under his arm.” “He was accompanied by two or three stragglers, who had thrown away their arms, and were making the best time possible to the rear. I put spurs to my horse and gave chase…”
Captain Lorenzo D. Stacy (Nicholas Picerno Collection)
Colonel George Love of the 116th New York Infantry spotted the retreating Confederates at about the same time as Stacy. According to Captain Stacy: “Love followed me and we both made for the flag the best we could. I was a little ahead, and first seized the flag and wretched it from the firm grasp of the rebel. Just at this moment Col. Love came up, dismounted, and seized hold of the flag, and ordered me to let him have it, which I refused to do until he told me that I should have it again. He took the flag, and we separated, and it was half an hour or more before I saw him again and he then gave me the flag, and I carried it fastened upon my saddle the remainder of the day.”
Colonel George Love (Nicholas Picerno Collection)
The outcome of the battle was quickly sealed and the army was soon in possession of their old campgrounds. Stacy noted: “After our return to ‘the old camp ground’, about dark that evening, we dismounted and sat down to rest; but in a few moments orders came for our brigade to move out to the front and form a picket-line across the valley. On looking for my horse which had been left standing near by, he could not be found. Horse, flag and all had gone together.”
It would take some time for Captain Stacy to recover his possessions. “Some three days afterwards, by diligent search, I found the flag in the possession of a colonel in Gen. Wheaton’s division, 6th Corps, and I recovered it and turned it over to Col. Davis, then in command of the 1st brigade 19th corps…”
Colonel George Love of the 116th, along with General William Dwight had, just prior to the battle, been released from arrest by General Sheridan, presumably for drinking. Love’s seizure of the flag, however brief, was certainly performed for some purpose. My guess; he probably brought it to his brigade or division commander, or even General Sheridan, perhaps as recompense for past misdeeds.
Regardless, Colonel Love was covered in glory for the capture of the flag. He was sent to Washington by General Sheridan, to present to the war department various flags captured from the rebels during this battle. On March 7, 1865, George Love would be breveted to the rank of Brigadier General in recognition of his actions by Abraham Lincoln. Additionally, he would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the capture of the 2nd South Carolina’s flag at Cedar Creek. Lorenzo Stacy would not even receive an honorable mention.
Love joined the regular army in 1867 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 11th United States Infantry. He retired as a first lieutenant in 1883. Not much is known of his life after his retirement but we know he died of natural causes in 1887 at the age of fifty-six. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York just a few feet from the spot President Millard Filmore is interred. His stone proudly touts the distinction of winning the Medal of Honor.
Brigadier General George Love’s Final Resting Spot in Buffalo, New York
Ironically, Captain Lorenzo Stacy was mustered out of service at Hilton Head, South Carolina, on June 21, 1868. At the close of the war he “entered into mercantile life, soon after drifting into a civil position.” He served for four years as deputy sheriff of Oxford County in Maine. He would also be elected as its sheriff, serving for eight years. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Kezar Falls, Maine. His stone shows the consequences of age, weathering, and neglect. There is no mention of the capture of a rebel flag.
Captain Lorenzo Stacy Memorial at Riverside Cemetery in Kezar Falls Maine
In Joshua Chamberlain’s 1889 Gettysburg speech he declared: “In great deeds something abides. On Great fields something stays.” Stacy went home at the end of the war, and never received credit for his accomplishment on the battlefield. John Gould penned in the regimental history: “It is said Stacy stayed at home and searched in his dictionary for the meaning of such words as Hero, Valor, Fearless and Illustrious, and wondered how any of these words could be defined as the running down of three or four unarmed cripples.” Stacy served his country and lived his life with integrity, and honor. He did not model his life on false claims. That distinction might be difficult for all who served to assert.
Many thanks to my friend Nick Picerno for all of his help, and especially for the photographs.
Gould, John M. The Civil War Journals of John Mead Gould 1861 to 1865. Butternut and Blue. Baltimore, Md. 1997.
Gould, John M. History of the First – Tenth – Twenty-Ninth Maine Regiment. Higginson Book Company. Salem, Ma. 1871.
Wyckoff, Mac. A History of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry: 1861-1865. Sergeant Kirkland’s Museum and Historical Society, Inc. Fredericksburg, Va. 1994. Nicholas Picerno Collection.