Pope left Washington on July 29th 1862 and rode a locomotive down the Orange &
Alexandria Railroad to Warrenton Junction. Irwin McDowell was waiting on the
platform when the locomotive hissed to a stop. The two generals walked together
to the end of the siding where a train was waiting under steam and climbed
aboard. Rolling into motion, the train gathered speed and carried the two
generals up the short spur into the village of Warrenton. Orderlies with extra
horses were waiting at the Warrenton station when the train arrived and the two
generals rode to McDowell's headquarters which was set up in a hotel in the
next morning, under an intense blue sky, Pope and McDowell came out of the
hotel and mingled for a moment with a crowd of staff officers; then, their
orders given, they mounted up and, led by a squadron of cavarlymen, rode west
into the countryside. Taking the turnpike that leads past the southern end of
the Bull Run Mountains—a string of nobby green hills that scatter
northward—they headed toward the Waterloo Bridge crossing of the Rappahannock. Along the way they passed the camps of Ricketts's division, the brigades at
rest in the patchwork of farm fields and woodland that border the road. Reaching
the bridge, Pope inspected the work of the Union pioneers who were hard at work
strengthening the abutments and installing trestles to ensure the span would
hold up under the load of the army's artillery and wagon traffic. Nodding
approvingly as he led his stallion clattering across the boards, he came to the
right bank of the river and went at the walk toward the gun metal ramparts of
the Blue Ridge Mountains that loom in the distance, heading for Nathaniel
Banks's headquarters at the village of Little Washington.
weeks earlier, when John Pope first came into the command of Lincoln's new
paper army, he had worked out with Lincoln a plan of operation with both
defensive and offensive components. From his desk in the War Department, he had
sent orders to his commanders in the field to concentrate their brigades near
the Blue Ridge where they could either block an enemy advance from the
direction of Gordonsville or the Luray Valley, or they could advance themselves
toward Richmond along the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. In the
early days of July, while Lincoln was at Harrison's Landing, the six German
brigades of John Fremont's old corps, now commanded by Franz Sigel, crossed the
Blue Ridge through Thornton's Gap, and went into camp near the piedmont village of Sperryville. During the same time, Nathaniel Banks, with five brigades, marching
from Winchester through Front Royal, crossed the Blue Ridge at Chester's Gap and came into camp on Sigel's left at Little Washington. Twenty miles to the
east of Little Washington, part of Irwin McDowell's corps, one division of
three brigades, under the command of John Ricketts, arrived from Manassas at Warrenton and went into camp in front of Waterloo Bridge. The other part—Rufus
King's division of four brigades—remained at Fredericksburg.
their positions on a twenty-five mile arc, extending from Sperryville to
Waterloo Bridge, Pope had fourteen brigades available to block the advance of
the enemy, by either marching west through the Blue Ridge gaps into the
Shenandoah Valley or marching east toward Culpeper and Fredericksburg. If the
enemy remained on the defensive at a distance, Lincoln expected Pope's army to
march on the offensive south to the Rapidan and operate against the Virginia
Central Railroad, Richmond's rail connection with the Orange & Alexandria
Railroad and the town of Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley. Once there, in
conjunction with King's division, Pope might move on Richmond.
at the outskirts of Little Washington in the blistering heat of noon, Pope and McDowell turned their dusty horses off the sweltering road, and plodded
through a meadow that extended into a hollow surrounded by pinnacled hills. In
the far corner of the field, a major general's pennant hung limply from a pole
above a string of white tents scattered along the bank of a rocky stream. As
the two generals rode into the campground, Nathaniel Banks stepped through the
open flaps of the main tent and stood with his hands on his hips. He was dressed
in a blue frock coat with two rows of brass buttons down its front, with a
white collar held round his neck by a thin black ribbon tied in a bow. Neatly
combed brown hair swept over his right eye and his intently staring eyes and
bushy mustache gave his face a stern expression.
a poor boy in Waltham, Massachusetts, he earned his living as a young man in a
cotton mill at a dollar a day; eventually he rose in politics to become a U.S.
Congressman, Speaker of the House, and two term governor of his state. Without
any military experience to his credit, he was now the third ranking
major-general in the Regular Army. Nat Banks didn't like John Pope. Banks, a
Democrat who leaned toward American nativism, saw Pope as a fawning acolyte of
the Radical Republicans. Though Banks outranked Pope on the senority list, Pope
acted as if he was Banks's superior in every way; yet, in the matter of
fighting, Pope had done nothing as far as Banks could see. True, Pope had
captured a small island the rebels had occupied in the Mississippi, but Banks
had fought Stonewall Jackson like the devil in the Valley and, at the first
opportunity, he meant to do the same again.
Pope and McDowell dismounted, Banks turned back into the tent, gesturing that
they follow him. Inside the tent a table with a chest of tiny drawers stood
next to the main tent pole, and several chairs were arrayed in a ring around
it. Slapping dust from his pant-legs with the brim of his big black hat, John
Pope sat down heavily in one of the chairs. Taking a dripping canteen that
Banks held out to him, he swigged several mouthfuls of tepid water and passed
it to McDowell who sat down beside him. Abruptly, he turned to Banks and said:
"When I send you word you will move your corps towards Culpeper; be
prepared to lead the army towards Rapidan Station."
his attention to McDowell, Pope said: "You will move Ricketts's division
from Waterloo Bridge towards Culpeper to cooperate with Banks on the movement
south." Inviting no discussion, Pope pushed back his chair and stood up.
"General McDowell will return to Warrenton and get Ricketts ready to move.
I will go to Sigel's camp at Sperryville and return here tonight." Then,
after taking the canteen from McDowell's hands and swallowing more water, he
went outside the tent and mounted up.
Banks stood in front of his tent and as Pope began to ride off, he called out,
"Are we then to march to join McClellan at Richmond?"
suddenly jerked the bit and his stallion spun round with a painful neigh.
Settling the horse by gripping the mane with his two hands, Pope looked at
Banks silently for a moment. Finally he said, "When King's division joins
us, the army will move on Gordonsville immediately." Then he raised a hand
carelessly to the brim of his hat and let the stallion canter away.
sneer crossed Banks's face as Pope rode out of sight. Two weeks before he had
sent a report to Pope in Washington that one of his cavalry patrols, sent to
burn small railroad bridges, by mistake of orders had burned the Orange & Alexandria's Rapidan Bridge. Pope immediately had wired Banks back: "We
are advancing and shall continue to advance, and the roads must be preserved
for our use. I beg of you to dismiss any idea that there is any purpose whatever
to retreat from the positions which you are instructed to take up or that there
is any design whatever to await any attack of the enemy." Aching to take
on Stonewall Jackson again, Banks would hold Pope to the letter.
Bank's headquarters camp, General Pope rode his horse at an easy lope, covering
the six miles into Sperryville in an hour. Reining up in front of the
Sperryville Hotel, a weather-beaten two story frame building with a covered
porch, he swung down from the saddle and swaggered up the wooden stairs to the
porch, his bulky cavalry boots clumping on the boards. The porch was crowded
with officers in bright uniforms standing about in scattered groups, clubbing
together and conversing in various languages: mostly German dialects with a
smattering of English and Hungarian. As Pope reached the porch, the
conversation among the officers trailed off and, with shuffling feet, those
blocking Pope's path to the entrance doors made a lane for him as he crossed
the porch and passed into the hotel lobby.
he found Franz Sigel standing in the company of Robert Schenck at the foot of
the staircase that led to the second floor. Wearing a knee length frock coat
covered with brass buttons down to the waist, Sigel stood rigidly straight
glaring at Pope. One hand balled into a fist was pressed against his hip. Next
to Sigel, with one arm leaning on the staircase's banister, Schenck was
striking a hickory riding stick against one of his knee high boots. Striding
across the lobby toward Sigel and Schenck, Pope stopped in front of a large
parlor room; gesturing to Sigel to join him, he turned into the room and,
stepping to an iron-faced fireplace, he stood there with his elbow resting on
the mantelpiece. When Sigel came to his side, Pope leaned forward and spoke in
a brusk tone, telling him to be ready to move his brigades south on the road
Sigel listened to Pope with a skeptical look on his face. A thin, ill-humored
little man, Sigel had been an officer in the army of the Duchy of Baden during
the German revolutionary war of 1848. Immigrating to the United States, in 1849, he became one of the political leaders of the Germans immigrants
who flooded St. Louis in the 1840's. Gaining a general's commission from Lincoln, as a reward for inducing thousands of St. Louis Germans to enlist in the Union
armies in 1861, Sigel was Lincoln's natural choice to take Fremont's place when
he refused to serve under Pope. Arriving in the East, just as the Union cordon
in the Valley had disintegrated under the pressure of Stonewall Jackson's
troops, Sigel had spent June and July reorganizing Fremont's ragged and
dejected corps into a fighting force again. Blenker's division was broken up,
the brigades distributed among Schenck's and Carl Schurz's divisions, and the
army supplied with equipment, provisions, and transportation.
dealings with Pope, however, had not gone well. As his brigades were on the
march through the Luray Valley, to take up the position at Sperryville, he
received a telegram from Pope which infuriated him. Pope chastised Sigel for
allowing Schenck to stop the march of his brigades, because of vague reports
that enemy infantry were blocking the route through Thornton's Gap. "You
must march forward and not backward," Pope had wired; "the rule to be
followed is to attack the enemy wherever you find him on the route you are
ordered to pursue unless he greatly outnumbers you." Having distinguished
himself as a fighter on various battle fields in Missouri and Arkansas, Franz
Sigel was in no mood to take orders from a neophyte general like Pope.
he heard the mention of Madison, Sigel turned his body sideways and dropped a
shoulder to squint at Pope in feigned disbelief. The Village of Madison lies thirty miles due south of Sperryville, a few miles below a tributary of the
Rapidan. What was the point of directing his corps toward Madison, Sigel asked.
Pope replied that from Madison Sigel would be in position to move toward Charlottesville and threaten the Virginia Central Railroad. Hearing this, Sigel grunted
and shook his head dismissively. "Charlottesville is forty miles from Madison, too far out for my corps to move south alone."
and McDowell will be on your left flank, moving toward Orange Courthouse,
threatening Gordonsville," Pope answered sharply.
stern expression registered disbelief: Pope seriously thought it safe to move
his paltry force almost seventy-five miles into the heart of Virginia?
Sigel's inner drift, Pope turned toward the parlor entrance with a wave of his
hand. "For now, move your cavalry across the river to watch Madison," he snapped.
Pope moved away from the fireplace Sigel called after him, "The scouts say
Stonewall Jackson is at the Rapidan waiting for us."
stopped in his tracks and, with a smirk on his face, he turned around and came
back to Sigel. "Is that so?" He said. "Then we'll strike him
when he comes."
Sigel did not answer, Pope strutted from the room and went quickly out of the
hotel; passing several Prussian officers who were still standing on the porch,
he descended the stairs to the hitching post and stepped into the saddle.
Without a backward glance, he cantered down Sperryville's only street and
headed back to Little Washington. As he rode, the sun, close now to the peaks
of the green mountains that loom above the little town, threw the lunging
shadow of the horseman far down the road ahead of him.
the purple twilight of sundown, Pope came into Banks's headquarters camp and
found a telegram from Halleck waiting for him: Burnside's command had been
ordered to embark from Hampton Roads for Fredericksburg and McClellan's corps
were soon to follow. Soon King's division would be free to join the Army of
Virginia at the Rapidan.
the noonday of August 8th, Stonewall Jackson was lying in a pasture near the
Rapidan, resting his head against the fat root of a sycamore tree. The stubby
visor of his campaign cap obscured the sharp bridge of his nose, and his hands
were folded across his chest. His sword, in its scabbard, was leaning against
the trunk of the tree. Above him the sycamore's thick leaf canopy shielded his
skinny body from the white ball of sun, hovering virulently overhead. His bony
little horse stood shivering behind the tree; tormented by blood-sucking flies,
the sorrel horse swished its tail across its haunches and stamped a hind leg in
in the distance, a silent mass of men was tramping northward by files of fours,
immersed in a murky cloud of light brown dust. In the withering heat, the
particles of dust were so fine that as the men shuffled their feet the dust was
like a veil hanging from the plane of their eyes, and suspended there it
floated in undulating waves. Each carrying a load of haversack, blanket, rifle
and cartridge pouch, the men streamed sweat, their chests heaved, their mouths
pressed against mucus-stained bandanas, their nostrils and eyelids caked with
brown slime. The strong ones dragged along the road, each man managing his
cadence so to keep himself removed from the man in his front, his rear and at
his side, while the weak ones fell away in droves to the shoulders of the road.
dawn on August 7th, at his camp near Gordonsville, Stonewall had received
reports from his scouts that Banks's infantry column was seen late the day
before marching from Little Washington, taking the rock road that led to
Culpeper. Now, late in the noonday hour of the 8th, a staff officer rode up to
the sycamore tree where Stonewall was sleeping and reported that the head of Winder's
division was standing in the roadway two miles north of Barnett's Ford, blocked
from advancing further by Ewell's wagon train cutting into the road. Quick like
a cat, Stonewall was upon his feet, buckling on his sword and taking up the
reins of his suffering sorrel.
nightfall on the 8th, he was riding with Ewell's lead brigade as it reached the
demolished railroad crossing of the Rapidan; wading through the adjacent wagon
ford in knee-deep water, he climbed the opposite bank through a notch and rode
onto the little plain in front of Cedar Mountain. The rest of Ewell's division
with Winder's and Hill's and thousands of horses pulling caissons and cannon
and wagons were jammed together on the road behind him as far south as the town
of Orange. Despite being outnumbered five divisions to three, Stonewall was
moving his army to encounter Pope's before it could concenrate
in the evening of August 8, Nat Banks rode in to Culpeper at the head of his
little corps and was met by a young man named Louis Marshall. The son of
General Lee's sister, Marshall had grown up in Baltimore. After his parents
left the United States for Europe, in July 1862, he joined John Pope's staff as
an aide de camp. Marshall brought Banks oral instructions from Pope which Banks's
chief of staff wrote out verbatim: "Move to the front at first light.
Deploy skirmishers; if the enemy advances attack him immediately as he
approaches and be reinforced from here."
Banks and Pope at Culpepper
next morning, Nat Banks rode away from Pope with a deep-seeded anger rising. As
far as he could see, the enemy's advance had presented Pope with the perfect
opportunity to put his words into action. His army was at least as strong as Jackson's, probably much stronger. Pope had Ricketts's division—four fresh brigades at
full strength—sitting for days closer to the Rapidan ford on the Culpeper Road than anyone. Ricketts could have easily gotten down to the Rapidan early on
the 8th, and Banks then would be moving to reinforce Ricketts while Sigel was
marching toward Culpeper as Pope's reserve. Instead, Pope was holding Ricketts
back and sending Banks forward alone. Six weeks earlier, in the face of Jackson's breakthrough at Front Royal with superior numbers, Nat Banks had been so badly
outnumbered he had no rational choice but to abandon his position at Winchester and retreat to the Potomac River. He had been ridiculed and abused by the Union
newspapers for his action and the shame of it was still burning his soul. This
time, he said to himself, whether outnumbered or not, he would fight Jackson to his last man.
miles out from Culpeper, Banks reached the crest of a high ridge in the company
of his division commanders, Christopher Augur and Alpheus Williams, and Pope's
surrogate, General Roberts. Ahead of him, he could see the Culpeper Road
descending a gentle grade for half a mile, to the undulating floor of a shallow
valley through which winds the branches of an intermittent stream called Cedar
Run. From his seat in the saddle, he could see that skirmishers from Augur's
division were streaming down from the ridge, the officers spreading a line
along a lane that ended in a clearing in front of Mrs. Crittenden's farmhouse.
A mile beyond the Union skirmishers, several sections of rebel artillery were
in battery, firing shells which sailed over the little valley and exploded on
the knolls, the creek bed, and the slope of the north ridge. Behind the rebel
cannon, a brigade-size column of infantry was moving slowly up the Culpeper Road from the wagon ford of the Rapidan. Far off in the hazy distance beyond the
river, a brown veil of dust hung ominously over the road.
shell suddenly exploded in the sky above the Union generals. Struggling with
one hand to control his excited stallion, Banks removed binoculars from a case
strapped to the pommel of his saddle and glassed the terrain of the valley.
Scanning across the knolls Banks brought the binoculars to rest on the face of Cedar Mountain, and he saw the glint of moving rifle barrels through the screen of trees.
Jamming the binoculars back in its case, he turned in the saddle and sharply
gave orders to his division commanders to deploy their brigades into battle
lines. "All of them?" the two commanders exclaimed in unison.
"You're damn right, all of them," Banks shouted back. "Augur,
you put your brigades on the left of the road and advance to the Crittendon
farmhouse. Williams, you send Crawford's brigade forward on the right side of
the road, keeping back your last brigade, Gordon's, as our general reserve."
brief moment later, an orderly on horseback was dashing into the valley and
Williams and Augur were spurring their horses back down the Culpeper Road. As
Williams and Augur were galloping off, Roberts sidled his horse to Banks's
side, and leaning close, he said: "General Pope says there must be no
backing out today." At this, Banks wrenched back the reins and spun his
stallion around, colliding chest to chest with Roberts's mount. Banks glared at
Roberts, as more of the rebels' long range shells whizzed over the ridge.
the din of the burgeoning cannonade, Banks shouted at Roberts: "You tell
Pope there will be a battle today, so he best get Ricketts up quick." Then
he viciously wheeled his charger around, and, waving to his staff to follow
him, he spurred the neighing animal into a gallop, and went flying south on the
Culpeper Road. Half-way down the long incline, heading to the valley floor,
he turned onto a farm lane that came to the road from the right; galloping
west, he went over a saddle between two short hills and followed the lane up
the skirt of a gully; grabbing the pommel of his saddle to hold his seat, he
climbed the grade, kicking the blowing stallion up the side of a rocky hill;
coming over the crown, he passed through several patches of trees and entered a
clearing that gave a lookout over the river valley.
was a cottage in the middle of the plateau. Smoke flitted up from a brick
chimney attached to the side of its shed-like roof. A heavy-set white woman was
standing in the doorway with her arms folded across her bosom, watching, as
Banks, followed by his cavalcade, galloped into the clearing and stopped in a
swirl of dust. Ignoring the woman, Banks dismounted in the farm yard and
sauntered over to a snake fence and watched the action unfolding below.
the next several hours, from noon till sometime after three, Nat Banks watched
from the cottage knoll as, one by one, rebel brigades appeared on the ground by
the bank of the river, creeping forward through the farm fields and the creek
beds, edging up to the lane where the Crittenden farm house stands. Swarming
over the ground opposite the lane, from the edge of Cedar Mountain to the Culpeper Road, Banks's soldiers—four small brigades—fought from the cover of the knolls and
gullies. Soon a wide band of smoke rose over the lane, making it almost
impossible to discern which side was advancing and which recoiling. The sight
filled Banks with elation; here was his chance to redeem the self-respect he
lost when he abandoned Winchester in the spring. There was an instant even, he
thought he might snatch from Pope the top command.
the little valley, the South Fork of Cedar Run flows north in the rear of Mrs.
Crittenden's farm house; bending around the north face of the mountain it cuts
across the flatland beyond the mountain and empties in to the Rapidan. Scanning
with his binoculars the broad swale made by the creek bed in the valley floor,
Banks saw that between the Crittenden farm house and the middle of the mountain
slope, where the enemy were felling trees to open sight lines for their
artillery, the ground was yet clear of enemy infantry. Shifting his glasses, he
scanned the west side of the Culpeper Road; moving his gaze by degrees along
the tree line in front of the wheat field, he saw that the bristling brown line
of enemy soldiers thinned to an end in the sector where the scrub brush invaded
the field. Lowering the binoculars, he stood for several minutes listening to
the sounds of the cannonading and watching the battle lines bulge and shrink,
ebb and flow, along the front.
he sent a courier riding to his battery captains with orders to concentrate
their fire on the open sector of the Culpeper Road, where the lagging regiments
of the enemy were breaking out of the congestion around the river ford and
attempting to assemble. Counter fire from the rebel side numbered as many guns:
three batteries were in echelon on the Culpeper Road and several more were
unlimbering along the river bank and others were opening from the lower
elevations of Cedar Mountain.
one boot on the top of the snake fence, Banks beckoned to Roberts, who was
standing back with the headquarters staff, to come forward. "Tell the
general commanding that the enemy is approaching us in force and we are
advancing," He said as Roberts reached his side.
gripped Banks's arm and leaned close to his ear. "General, you must stand
on the defensive. All your troops are in line and you have no reserves."
The spectacle of battle had changed his tune. When Banks did not reply, Roberts
gripped his arm tighter and pointed to the western horizon. "Look,
General, look at the sun. There is but two hours of daylight left. Just hold
the high ridge until night falls."
off Roberts’s grip, Banks casually shifted his gaze from the action in the
valley to the western horizon. The sun was a large orange ball hovering in a
darkening sky above the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. "It is General
Pope's duty to have Ricketts up in time," he said.
stepped in front of Banks and faced him. Couriers had been racing back and
forth between Pope and him. Pope had not believed that Banks would take the
initiative against Jackson without Ricketts up. Now he was frantic that Roberts
get Banks to back off. "Ricketts has not moved up. General Pope expected
Sigel to reach Culpeper in plenty of time to reinforce you, but Sigel has only
just now arrived, and he refuses to march any further until his men are rested
Roberts was speaking, Banks's gaze drifted back to the valley. Pope be dammed,
he thought. South of the corn field, he saw several teams of artillery horses,
dragging bouncing gun carriages, gallop through openings in the enemy infantry
ranks; wheeling their teams around at the edge of a clump of cedar trees, the
cannoneers quickly dismounted and released their pieces from the limbers and,
as the horse-holders ran the teams out of the way, they pushed their pieces
beyond the trees, in sections, and commenced firing canister shells into the corn
field. Suddenly, a regiment from Prince's Union brigade, fanned out as
skirmishers, rushed from the cover of the high corn and ran toward the guns.
Seconds later, a battle line of rebel soldiers rose up from behind farm fences,
hay stacks and bushes, and fired their rifles in perfect unison. The blast of
fire dropped the front rank of the Union skirmishers in their tracks. A moment
of stillness, like a sudden falling off of the wind in a storm, filled the
valley as thousands of eyes watched the wounded soldiers shriveling to the
ground. Then, from both sides came suddenly again the crashing, deafening roar
of artillery fire, overlaid this time with the crackling, incessant roll of
rifle volleys, and four brigades of soldiers surged violently together again in
the middle of the valley.
sixty minutes the little valley between the high ridge and the knoll where Mrs.
Crittenden's farm house stands was the vortex of a human maelstrom. From every
direction, artillery shells of every description were hurled, whining and
screeching, into it; bursting in the midst of the wild-eyed combatants, the
casings of the shells fragmented into flying shards of ragged metal, sweeping
clear momentarily patches of ground in the battle lines. Like giant
heavy-weight boxers standing toe to toe exchanging body blows, first one side,
then the other, would stagger backward from the shock of the scything shells
and then come on again. Then, as whole companies of men collapsed to the
ground, instantly replaced by fresh ones, the contending battle lines puffed
and swayed like cobra snakes to the shrill notes of the bugles, and spit flames
of lead venom at each other. Shrouded in smoke and dust the field slowly became
grim with desolation: among the splintered trees and wrecked gun carriages,
mangled dead bodies of men and horses lay in scattered heaps among long rows of
wounded and dying men; some moaning, some calling for their mothers and wives,
some, in delirium, repeating the names of their companions, as if they were
calling the muster roll over and over again.
rebel General Winder appeared on the Culpeper Road, near the corner of the
field where a section of rebel guns was firing, under the command of Captain
Poague; dismounting, he stood in the space between the left gun and its limber
and watched the progress of the battle through binoculars. He was the ranking
general officer on the field. A mile ahead, he could see the right flank of a
Union brigade being cut to pieces as the men crossed the creek bed at the
bottom of the Crittenden knoll and climbed the slope. Then, suddenly, a
tremendous sound of rifle volleying came from the direction of the wheat field
on the west side of the road, and Winder saw that a mass of Union infantry had
emerged from a band of woods and was firing rifle volleys into the flank of a
rebel brigade—the rebel soldiers caught unawares abruptly abandoned their
positions and ran back across the fields. At the same time a courier came
galloping up with a message from Jubal Early whose brigade of Virginians was
anchoring the rebel right; the lines formed by the Union brigades on Banks's
left were overlapping his and he needed reinforcements immediately.
this, Winder grabbed hold of the courier's shoulder and, stretching to reach
his ear, he shouted orders to bring reserves up to the front. Just as the
orderly was kicking his horse away, a stream of shells sailed over the canopy
of trees and burst among Poague's cannonners, killing one of the sergeants and
slaughtering a team of the horses. Standing in the midst of the smoking
carnage, Winder was struck in his left side by a spinning fragment of metal
which shattered his rib cage as it ripped away a chunk of flesh from his chest
and went careening on. The shock of the impact rocked Winder back on his heels
and he fell dead to the ground in a quivering heap, the gaping hole in his
chest gurgling black blood.
shells came faster now, ricocheting among the cannonners, splintering the
limbers and blowing up the caissons. At the same time a mob of rebel soldiers
came scrambling south like hysterical cattle in a stampede. A solid line of
hurrahing Union soldiers from Crawford's brigade came close behind them. In the
chaos of the moment the survivors among the gun crews drew ropes through the
eyelets of the trail handles and dragged their guns away as the surging blue
line loosed a crackling rifle volley into them.
deafening crescendo of battle sounds brought Stonewall Jackson galloping from
the river ford. Touched to the quick by the sight of his tottering brigades he
has turned pale; he knows that his whole future is suddenly at stake. Winder
has been killed. Ronald's brigade is out of touch. Garnett's brigade is giving
way in panic under the pressure of Crawford's oblique attack across the wheat
field. Taliaferro's left wing is collapsing under Crawford's pressure, and the
right wing facing Geary is giving ground. The whole tangled mass of Jackson's disconcerted men is disrupting Early's fight with Prince. Into the eye of this
storm Stonewall rides: waving a regimental banner snatched from someone's hand,
he shouts orders that no one can hear. Reining up, he sits his little sorrel
suspended in time, unseen in the midst of his fleeing soldiers, his eyes
darting about the field to see whose reinforcements are coming up. Miraculously
he sees A.P. Hill's brigades appear on the field. Hill, wearing his trademark
red shirt, waving a sword over his head, directs one brigade to the left,
another to the center, and another to the right—a fresh rebel tide swamping the
Union forces in the field, driving them back in all sectors.
now, outnumbered and outclassed, the cohesion of the Union front crumbles as
the men in the ranks run for their lives. On the right of the Culpeper Road, Thomas's brigade arrives in Jubal Early's rear and thickens the rebel side of
the scrimmage, driving the Union brigades of Geary and Prince back from the
knoll, across the creek bed and through the cornfield. Struggling to hold their
fall back position on the ridge, Augur is wounded, Geary wounded, Prince
captured and all the rest of the field officers, majors, lieutenants, colonels,
are killed or wounded. The Union offensive has been crushed and the survival of
Banks's corps is now at stake.
the cottage knoll Nat Banks sees the surge of Jackson's reinforcements push his
battle lines back towards the high ridge, and he grunts in angry satisfaction.
His little corps has gone against the mighty Stonewall and knocked him on the
edge of a serious disaster. There will be no running from the field now, he
thinks in glee.
stepped into the saddle and laid a gloved hand on his stallion's croup. The sun
was gone behind the Blue Ridge and John Pope and the rest of the army were
nowhere in sight. Beneath his droopy mustache his tight lips parted in a thin
smile. If the Union general commanding had been as adroit as his rebel
counterpart in marshalling the whole of his army for the fight, he might have
pushed the enemy into the Rapidan River; but, instead, Pope had hung back,
content to dangle Banks's men at the enemy like bait. What did he think? That
the newspapers would report that he had stopped Jackson's pursuit of Banks as
Banks fell back without a fight? Banks chuckled dryly to himself as he waved to
his entourage to come on. Now the newspapers would be telling the North about
the courage of the Yankees who fought with Banks at Cedar Mountain.
the gathering darkness, Nat Banks turned his stallion around and, holding the
reins high in his hands, he led his mount at the trot, eastward, toward the Culpeper Road. Arriving there, he found a Pennsylvania regiment of Zouaves in a battle line
on both sides of the road. In their front, near the crown of the forested ridge
three hundred yards in the distance, he saw tiny flashes of flame from the
discharge of the enemy’s rifles, sprinkling the darkness. Deep in the
surrounding forest, dark red flashes, in halos of brilliant white light,
illuminated the muzzles of a section of rebel field pieces. Shells whooshed
high overhead like shooting stars, with their sparkling fuses leaving faint
ionized trails in the moonlit sky. Then, from somewhere in the fields behind
the Zouaves' battle line, an explosion sounded and a white light suddenly
flared; and as it flickered away, he glimpsed scattered groups of his soldiers
trudging north, Zombie-like, in the fields beside the road; and on the road
behind him, he saw a shadowy procession of creaking ambulances trundling with
his stallion north on the road, Banks heard in the distance the dull clang of
sabers rattling in scabbards and the muted stamp of horses' hoofs trotting.
Reining his mount to a halt, he straightened his back and sat square in the
saddle as John Pope, riding with Roberts and McDowell at the head of Ricketts's
division, came into sight. Pope stopped with his entourage in front of Banks
and took a long look at the shades of Banks's slouching soldiers making their
way rearward. Pope nudged his mount alongside Banks and said coldly, "Why
did you not follow Roberts’s instructions?"
you can see I have held my position," Banks replied sharply.
you have broken your command nearly to pieces."
of the absence of reinforcements from you."
should not have brought on a battle until you had the troops necessary to win
had been waiting for this; he leaned forward in the moonlit darkness and
sneered at Pope. "Well, now that you have brought the army up, you may
easily resume it tomorrow."
then, a rebel shell exploded overhead and, as fragments of hot metal rained
down on them, the knot of horsemen kicked their startled horses into motion and
clamored back down the road several hundred yards, to a clearing between two
belts of woodlot. There, the generals dismounted and discussed the situation in
angry tones. Hardly had they dismounted from their horses than the sound of
galloping horses could be heard coming toward them across the clearing from the
west belt of woods. Pistol shots were fired at them; realizing that enemy
cavalry were charging toward them, they leaped to their saddles. In the
confusion, Pope's shying horse knocked against Banks's hip as he raised his
boot to the stirrup and he fell down to the ground. As the generals struggled
to get Banks up on his horse, a regiment of infantry from Ricketts's lead
brigade stormed through the clearing, forcing the enemy cavalry to veer away.
Banks was taken from the clearing to an ambulance, his hip and leg so bruised
by his collision with Pope's horse he was unable to mount his stallion for a
next day, when the dawn came stifling hot and breezeless, John Pope found the
high ridge deserted. During the night the enemy's cavalry scouts had brought
Stonewall the news that Ricketts and Sigel had reached the ground, and he
quickly withdrew his front to Mrs. Crittenden's farm lane. During the morning,
while skirmishers from both sides were again slowly coalescing in the valley of Cedar Run, Pope ordered Ricketts to advance his four brigades to the ridge on the
right side of the Culpeper Road, and, by noon, he had Sigel's six brigades
follow on the left side. Banks's exhausted command Pope left in camp a mile
back from the ridge on the Culpeper Road; those few of Banks's regiments still
capable of combat to be used as a general reserve.
up to the high ridge with Dick Milroy, the commander of Sigel's most
experienced brigade, John Pope saw for the first time in his military career
the horrible desolation of an active battlefield. Wood fragments of cannon
carriages, and the broken frames of limbers and caissons, were scattered across
the field. Everywhere the ground was pocked with craters from the shells. The
ripe stalks in the corn fields lay like a green bamboo carpet on the ground,
trodden and trampled by the mad rush of the soldiers back and forth. The cedar
trees in the clump on the knoll behind the corn field were splintered and
peeled. On the opposite slope of the next knoll, six grey horses lay on their
sides in double files, their stiff legs outstretched from their bullet-riddled
bodies. In the ravine between the knolls, more dead horses lay entwined in
piles, and lying in long, uneven rows between them were scores and scores of
dead men swelling, like the horses, in the heat of the merciless sun. A swarm
of squabbling crows and vultures, their wings raised to ward off their
neighbors, were tearing red morsels of flesh from the grey bodies.
his horse eastward along the ridge, John Pope held his binoculars in one hand
and, scanning the distant border of the carrion field, he saw the brown lines
of Jackson's infantry massed on the crowns of the knolls that stretch across
the valley, from the forest to Cedar Mountain. As Pope was scrutinizing the
enemy lines with his binoculars, Franz Sigel rode up with a pack of his
brigadiers. Sigel reported that the left wing was ready to advance to the
attack and asked Pope what were his orders. The commanding general lowered his
binoculars and looked at the officers circled around him. Each of them had
their eyes fixed solidly on him and he could see that they were expecting him
to order them into action. Not answering Sigel, he looked off in the distance
again, his eyes narrowing under the glare of the sun. A sweet, putrid smell in
the dead atmosphere congested his nostrils, and he stared at the grotesque
sight of the bloated grey bodies strewn over the valley floor and he thought of
the possibility that Jackson had been reinforced, of the long road back to the
Rappahannock bridges, of Halleck's instructions to be cautious—and he decided
to stand on the defensive and wait for King's division to arrive.
in the saddle, he said to Sigel, "The heat is too intense for us to renew
the action today." Then, leaving Sigel and the rest with smirking
expressions spreading over their faces, he turned his horse around and rode