JoAnn and I took the opportunity last spring (2012) to head back east and learn more about dinosaurs from Canon City and the people who discovered them. Cedar Creek is a well known civil war battlefield in the northern part of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virgina. The battles nearby including Cedar Creek have a strong connection to the Old Vermont Brigade and of course Marshall and Amanda Felch. We stopped the previous night in Winchester Virginia which has its own remarkable Civil War legacy.
We went a few miles southwest of Winchester on April 29, 2012 along state highway 11, which parallels I-81. This route was known in the civil war as the Valley Pike. Our first stop was the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation which operates out of an older house along the highway. We visited inside and had an excellent intro to the battle from a knowledgeable volunteer working there. Naturally JoAnn made fast friends and learned all the minute details of their operation!
One thing you learn when Civil War traveling is how large Civil War battlefields are and Cedar Creek is no exception. Organizations like the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation and the Civil War Trust work to preserve these battlefield locations and that preservation is a true challenge. In the case of Cedar Creek some wonderful accomplishments have been made such as the acquisition of the Belle Grove Plantation but simultaneously there are challenges such a massive limestone quarry on the western edge of the battlefield.
Our first official glimpse of the battlefield was just down the road from the facility above.
We next traveled a short distance to the Belle Grove Plantation where they were holding a sheep dog event. Belle Grove is fairly close to where Marshall would have been located the morning of the battle.
The story of the Vermont troops is told very well in a book by Aldace F. Walker entitled “The Vermont Brigade in the Shenandoah Valley,” a publication you can locate on Google Books. A relatively simple animated map by the Civil War Trust does a good job of describing the flow of the battle. Natalie Kinsey-Warnock found this excellent description of the battle from the commander of an ambulance train at this battle by the name of Dennis Thompson. This article is entitled “In the Enemy Lines” and is well worth a read.
Long story short, this battle constituted the last significant battle in the Shenandoah Valley. The date was October 19, 1864 and the South had one more surprise up its sleeve. A surprise attack that had many twists and turns and was a very successful surprise but by the end of the day, the Union forces had retaken what had been lost in the morning.
My primary interest in the battle was Marshall Felch and his story. At this moment, Amanda was at City Point working in one of the hospitals, certainly something I’ll cover in another post.
The significance of the battle from our hero Marshall is clarified with a deposition by Amanda in 1890. Thanks to the Canon City History Center for keeping these records and Natalie Kinsey-Warnock for transcribing the deposition.
“In Dec. 1864 at City Point [Grant’s headquarters near Petersburg]… I was at the IX Army Corps hospital in charge of the contrabands. He came to my quarters quite late in the evening with 3 or 4 of the boys that were sick…. When Mr. Felch came to my quarters he complained of a pain in [his] left side.” I said “What’s the matter with you?” He replied, ‘We have had an awful hard time and I got hurt at Cedar Creek [ battle of, Oct. 19, 1864] and [I] feel very much as I did then. I het[sic] some rocks and put [them] to his feet and think I gave him quinine and whiskey….[He] was not fully well when he left my quarters for the front, complained of the pain in his side, but I did not give mind to it as I had many to look after.” Marshall spent two or three days in bed. Amanda recalled that Marshall said, “My arm and hand has been numb and lame ever since I was thrown from my horse.” Amanda said that she rubbed his left arm that night. Marshall would suffer from this injury for the rest of his life.
The Union forces were over run that morning and the location where Marshall was is included. Many medical ambulances were captured that morning and recaptured that afternoon! In the confusion of the morning Marshall apparently found himself in retreat like the many of Union forces. In this confusion, Marshall was thrown from a horse and that injury would adversely affect him for the rest of his life. This affected his ability to excavate dinosaur fossils.
The Battle of Cedar Creek started out poorly for the Union forces but it also turned into a great victory and another place where the Vermont troops are celebrated. A painting sits today in the Vermont State House celebrating the accomplishments of the Vermont troops at this battle. JoAnn and I plan to see this painting when we visit Montpelier this fall (2012).
Within the battle descriptions I especially like this reference in relation to the arrival of General Sheridan to the battle. His arrival on the battle scene is legendary. “When our greeting had somewhat subsided Col. Tracy, the first man in the Corps to address him, rode up, hat in hand, saying, “General, we’re glad to see you.” “Well, by G-, I’m glad to be here,” exclaimed the General, “What troops are these?” “Sixth Corps! Vermont brigade!” was shouted from the ranks. His answer was prompt: “All right!” We’re all right! We’ll have our camps by night!” and he galloped on.
JoAnn and I missed the opportunity to see the monument commemorating the 8th Vermont regiments gallant efforts for the day and hope to see that next time we’re in the area. This part of Virginia is gorgeous and well worth the visit.