Skip to comments.This Day In History | Civil War October 9, 1864 Battle of Tom's Brook aka "The Woodstock Races"
Posted on 10/09/2005 5:37:59 AM PDT by mainepatsfan
This Day In History | Civil War
1864 Battle of Tom's Brook
Union cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley deal a humiliating defeat to their Confederate counterparts at Tom's Brook, Virginia.
Confederate General Jubal Early's force had been operating in and around the Shenandoah area for four months. Early's summer campaign caught the attention of Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant, who was laying siege to Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia. Grant was determined to neutralize Early and secure the Shenandoah for the North. He dispatched one of his best generals, Philip Sheridan, to pursue the Rebels there.
Sheridan took command in August but spent over a month gathering his force before moving against Early. He quickly turned the tables on the Confederates, scoring major victories at Winchester and Fischer's Hill in September. Early's battered force sought refuge in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, while Sheridan began systematically destroying the Shenandoah's rich agricultural resources. Sheridan used his cavalry, under the command of General Alfred Torbert, to guard the foot soldiers as they burned farms and mills and slaughtered livestock. Confederate cavalry chief General Thomas Rosser nipped at the heels of the marauding Yankee force, but Torbert refused to allow his generals, George Custer and Wesley Merritt, to counterattack. He insisted they continue to stick close to the Union infantry. Sheridan heard of this and demanded that Torbert attack.
At dawn on October 9, Custer and Merritt and their respective forces attacked the two wings of the Confederate cavalry. Merritt's 3,500 Yankees overwhelmed General Lunsford Lomax's 1,500 troopers, but Custer had more difficulty. His 2,500 men faced 3,000 under the command of Rosser, who was, coincidentally, a close friend of Custer's at West Point before the war. Custer observed that the Rebels were protected by the high bank of Tom's Creek, so he sent three of his regiments around Rosser's flank. Both groups of Confederates broke in retreat. The Yankees pursued the defeated Confederates for over 20 miles, a flight called the "Woodstock Races." The chase ended only when the Confederates reached the safety of Early's infantry.
The Yankees captured 350 men, 11 artillery pieces, and all of the cavalry's wagons and ambulances. Nine Union troopers were killed, and 48 were wounded. It was the most complete victory of Union cavalry in the eastern theater during the entire war.
Early was doomed from the beginning. Supply lines stretched, troops worn out, easily flanked. Plus by this time in the war, the chaff had been sifted out of the Feds, and the real meat was now in command - Sheridan, Sherman, Thomas and Grant. As with the army of Tennessee, the Rebs outside the army of Virginia were shots in the dark. It was just a matter of time by now with Sherman in Lee's rear and the other two armies simply drifting north to be annihilated.
Northern cavalry had beeen steadily improving (learning how to stay in their saddles) over the previous two years; conversely by late 1864 the Confederates could barely keep their soldiers, let alone their horses fed.
Being required to furnish their own horses from the beginning, originally the Confederate cavalry had consisted of some of the finest saddle stock in the world. And, as somebody of the time commented, Stuart's troopers could have taught tricks to circus riders. By October 1864 their mounts were largely underfed farm animals, including some draft horses. And many of the most experienced riders had succumbed to their own flamboyancy(IOW, gotten themselves killed).
The Union cavalry also had repeating rifles. By that point of the war, they were superior to anything the Confederates had.
I dunno, those sawed-off shotguns our boys were partial to carrying were pretty damned effective from a moving horse...:-)
After pillaging and burning the length of The Valley, acknowledged universally to be one of the lovelyst prospects to delight the eye, Sheridan boasted that if a pidgeon attempted to fly the length of The Shenandoah Valley it would have to pack its own rations. In this scortched earth precursor to the total war of the twentieth century, Sheridan might as well have sowed The Valley, like Carthage, with salt. As it was he sowed it with bitterness against the Yankess which endured long enough into the next century for me to have observed it there in my youth.
Actually, the Romans never sowed the site of Carthage with salt. That notion first got into the historical literature about 100 years ago, apparently because of a mix-up with an incident in the Bible when a town was destroyed and the site sown with salt. There are no ancient texts saying that the Romans sowed the site of Carthage with salt.
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