Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
135th Anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek
Belle Grove Plantation
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October 17-19, 1999
along Cedar Creek,
October 19, 1864
I take this opportunity to send word of my safety, and to give you some particulars of our part of the battles her of the last few days. I suspect that the news has come to you in the papers of the engagement here in the Valley, and our victories under Gen. Sheridan. The Valley is sublime, and at this time of year comfortable and cool. The trees are turning, and the air clear, the view far. We are in camp just off the Valley Turnpike, about a mile below the center of Middletown.
Our boys came on to the land of Gen. Sheridan's headquarters from the north. We found our way through the scattered camps, and came to the local headquarters of the First Regiment of the United States Volunteers. Col. Waffler directed us to our sites. By his kindness, and our arrival time in the late afternoon, we were situated at the far edge of the camp, and near a pleasant little creek that reminded us of the Antietam. We erected our dogs, and picked out some river rocks for a fire circle, fetched some wood from the regimental supply, and settled in. As we were getting into camp, a large number of the Federal boys were paraded and marched away. It soon came to be that the artillery on the ridge above the camps started firing at something, and the infantry was brought up to support it. Soon there appeared over the rolling hills the stars and bars and the grey boys bobbed up into view. The fighting was quick, sharp, and close. But it did not last all that long, and the overwhelming numbers that we put forth soon compelled the rebels to retire whence they came.
As the fighting troops came into camp, the feeling was that they would be back, and full diligence should be paid by the sentinels. We boys of the 8th determined to walk over and see the mansion, and have a look about. We walked some distance, and as we walked we passed through the camps of the infantry, cavalry, and artillery, all spaced out at good intervals. We arrived at the house, a fine stone mansion, very impressive, but the house was closed, and there seemed to be no one about. We did have the pleasure of locating our friends of the 1st Maryland, and saw them in camp in the cow pasture out the east side of the house. We returned to our little camp, and determined to get up a fire and cook. And cook we did, salt pork, coffee, and hardtack. Such is the daily ration of the infantry soldier. We spent the evening around the fire, telling stories, and philosophizing of many things, talking of the many friends that did not make this campaign with us. We retired early, knowing that the regiment dress parade in the morning would come early.
And early it was, the revielle was sounded just after dawn. We all arose, stirred the fire up, and got some coffee. It is the normal event that I went ahead and prepared some oats for breakfast, and as soon as I took the first spoon, the orders to form up come. That we did, formed up, and marched off to be assigned our place in the line of battle. We were put together with the 56th Penn. once more, and under the command of Capt. Dennis Lahey. He is quite a round and jovial sort of fellow, and his men friendly. The parades of all the regiments on hand went off at most the same time. Ours was short, and was followed by a brigade drill of some duration. The object of the drill was to change battalion front to the right, and then to exchange battalions on the line of battle. This is accomplished by using by the right of companies to the front, and by the left of companies to the rear, passing the companies through each other, then company into line to establish the battalion line once more. Such is the plan for battle.
The drill was dismissed, but the headquarters guards were not, and security in camp was tighter than usual. We passed the time resting, and soon were called into line around 2 o'clock. The battalions, regiments, and brigades were paraded, and positioned, where we saw all the pageantry of war, with the standards flying and the men straight and proud. Mind you, these are all veterans at this time, there is no bright brass, but there is a lot of bright soldiers.
Our lines were moved forward in fits and starts, as the command decided how to conduct the attack. It seems that there was a much larger body of rebel infantry approaching our camps from the south, and that they were almost upon us without being discovered. Our artillery went into battery and commenced upon them as they came into sight. Our many brigades went forward, and over the ridge near the Heater House, it all unfolded like the doors to Hell itself. Across the stream there were rebels advancing, flags flying, and yelling like women. They were fighting for their lives, and pushing our lines hard. Over to the right flank there was a large cavalry engagement in progress, and it seemed almost like a rotating hurricane of horses and men, sucking more and more casualties into its center. They would break off occasionally, the horses would breathe, and once again the devil would have his way.
Our battalion was held in reserve for some time, but the rebel host swept up to and through us quickly, and causing many casualties. The rebels punched a hole in our lines between our battalion and that upon our left. We turned the left companies to refuse the flanks, and the other battalion turned their right companies, so the rebels were in a hall of fire, and our guns above blasted away, and drove them back. The tide turned, and we were then all able to advance, and start to drive the rebels. Our losses were quite complete, however, and the Union force that ended driving the rebels back to their original position was only a fraction of the force. The hundreds of casualties were tended to, and the survivors were returned to camp.
There we rested some more, and the cool evening air settled upon us once more. Again, our cookie took good care of us, and turned our army rations into a delectable stew that we all relished with the overlooked addition of only a few foraged and assumed wild turkeys. It was first rate as usual, and we all then rested and talked around the fire once more. It was an early night, as the expectation of the officers was to be turned out at any time to prevent another rout.
And the alarm of the pickets firing was started to be heard around four in the morning. It was desultory at first, but after about half and hour seemed like a match, and the troops were called out and formed in line of battle. In the dark, it is hard to march, and the ground we covered was speckled with rocks and outcroppings to trip over. We were marched and positioned here, there, ordered to fire, and moved again, and in the confusion, we only followed orders, although some in the ranks suspect that we had fired into our own lines, into our cavalry picket lines, and so on. But no one knew for sure, and we must follow the orders. The staff seemed singularly unsure of themselves in the dark, but once Gen. Daniels ordered the cooperation of the several battalions to converge, surround, and capture two rebel battalions, it was accomplished with much more excitement than precision. Yet, it was done, and the officers were proud of themselves then. All the floundering that they were doing had lead to great success, and they were relieved. We returned to camp before the sun, and were allowed to return to our bed rolls, which every soldier did.
We arose once more in an hour or so, and went about the business of coffee and salt pork once again with great relish. The day was Sunday, and the other regiments were forming for inspection. Our First Regiment was ordered to dress parade, which we did. It seemed very ceremonial, as the two USV regiments were formed for parade by division, marched around on a square, passing in review, then formed in line, and then a three sided square. Our respects were paid to Major Buffington of the 2d regiment upon his service to the USV, and his leave. We then formed line of battle, column of divisions, passed in review once more, and finally halted on a hillside. It was indeed a proud moment for every soldier just to stop, and look around at this impressive formation for the last campaign of this century. After that silence, Col. Liamo gave command of the regiments to their Colonels, and our honored Col. Waffler, simply, in respect of the boys, just gave the order right there, "Break Ranks, March!"
Back in camp, we were ordered to strike our camp, prepare rations, and be ready to march away on a moment's notice. We dutifully rolled our shelters, made our bed rolls, and gathered our traps. Once that was done, we hauled our loads to the rear where the most of it could be put in the wagon trains if practicable, and kept the rest of the traps with us. We returned to the camp site, and rested some in the grass and the sun there by the gurgling creek. It is both a beautiful and a horrible place here, at once a heaven and a hell.
The bliss and grace was broken once moe by the orders to form. We at once jumped to the orders, and the regiment was once more in line, and moved out to meet the approaching enemy. It did not take long to see that the enemy was making a repeat of their attack from yesterday, and they were more determined. We were positioned in the line farther to the left than yesterday, and were bearing the brunt of the rebel push there around the Heater House. In the swale there, our guns were of little help, as they could not single the enemy out. The rebels came and came and came, until the point where we were ordered to fall back, form, fall back form, and so on until we simply broke. We did go for the rear of our guns until a cavalry officer rode among us and implored us to return, that we outnumbered the rebels, and all we had to do was go back in and push them back. Our company had not scattered, so dressed up, and did go back in with a vengeance. Capt. Lahey fell, and so Capt. Kelley took us forward. We fought and fired, and advanced well. The advance was general along our lines, and so the rebels were caving. It was a carpet of wounded in the Heater swale there as the waves passed through once more. Then Capt. Kelley went down, and we were without. I was the only Sergeant left, so stood to the post. The cavalry officer mounted behind his dismounted troopers implored us to advance and push the enemy, which we did. Casualties had reduced us to only a handful, but we were the stoutest hearted men of the company, and we loaded, fired, advanced, fired, charged bayonet, and double quicked into the rebel lines, to the point which they melted away in front of us.
The Union push this time was strong enough to convince the rebels to retire some distance removed from the front. They could be seen running away down the turnpike some distance, over Cedar Creek, and farther. Their men and wagons were clogging the roads, and they were in confusion. The rout for us was total. We rested on the field at once, caught our breath, and passed over the field in search of our fallen. We found some where they had fell, and others who had got away. We rounded up most of them, and returned as a group to the rear. The orders received there were to get up the gear, and march at once to the north. It seemed hard to believe that we would not follow the rebels up the valley to the south, but we were assured that others would, and that the rebels would never be seen on the Valley again. Such an optimistic view would be welcome, and so we followed orders, and got on the pike towards Winchester. We are in camp there now, and I cannot guess where we go or when I shall have an opportunity to post you, so I shall bring this letter to a close, and pray that you all are well.
Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.