25 September - 19 October 1864
November 14, 1864.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of engagements of the First Vermont Cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley, Va., from the 25th day of September to the 22d day of October, 1864:
Engagement of the 19th of October, 1864, at Cedar Creek.—On the morning of the 19th of October the command was aroused by an attack on the right of the picket-lines, which was held by our division. It was soon ascertained that our line had been forced, and a lodgment effected by the enemy on the north bank of Cedar Creek. I was ordered to '`move out" with my regiment, select and occupy a position covering camp, and also feel the lines of the enemy. The latter was promptly and successfully accomplished by the First Battalion under Captain Cummings. I was then ordered to return to camp. On my arrival was almost immediately directed to reoccupy the position, but ere this could be executed it was superseded by another to withdraw promptly and join the division, then moving in the direction of the infantry lines, whose heavy firing was now heard. No sooner had I joined the column than I was directed to move again to the extreme right and ascertain if any flanking column of the enemy was moving in that direction. A short distance brought me in sight of a strong column, which fact I promptly reported, and, selecting a position so as to check their advance, I awaited the attack. Having received orders from Colonel Wells to fall back and keep connection with the infantry, I slowly withdrew, the enemy following, skirmishing sharply. After retiring about one mile, information was received that the infantry were making strenulous efforts to check the further advance of the enemy. I, therefore, halted, and by severe skirmishing succeeded in holding my lines for more than two hours. General Custer, now returning from the left with the First Brigade and battery, ordered a charge, in which we drove the enemy and regained my former position. This we held until about 4 p. m., when the whole division was moved rapidly to the left and front, dividing the enemy's infantry from trig cavalry; and while the First Brigade engaged his cavalry, General Custer, taking my regiment, moved rapidly down across the battle-field, where the Sixth Corps in the morning most gallantly, but vainly, endeavored to check the tide of battle, which was sweeping back the broken and scattered Eighth and Nineteenth Corps. Here mingled lay the dead and wounded of both armies, and as our men gazed upon the naked forms Of their dead and wounded comrades—the former entirely and the latter partially stripped by our inhuman foe—the deep murmurs that ran long the ranks foreshadowed the impetuosity of the coming charge. At this juncture the lines of both armies were a short distance to the left find front, in full view, and our infantry driving the enemy in fine style. All these circumstances combined awakened an enthusiasm and determination needing only. the guiding hand to render terrible. At this time the lines of the enemy rested along our old breast-works on the north bank of Cedar Creek. The order given General Custer was to charge the breast-works, swing to the left, and secure what we could. Before this could be executed, so rapid was the movement of the enemy to the rear, nearly all were over the creek; only a few were secured. Down a narrow, winding footpath, which led through the thick wood covering the bluff on this bank of the creek, we dashed across the creek, skirmishing until the advance reached a heavy stone wall about sixty rods from the crossing; here it was halted until the entire regiment could arrive. Just as I had completed the reforming of the regiment General Custer came up with the Fifth New York Cavalry, which formed upon my left. Not a moment was to be lost. Ten thousand veteran infantry within a quarter of a mile and near a grove of heavy timber, although broken, might in a moment's time prepare to successfully resist a much heavier force. With the order " attention," I leaped my horse over the stones where the wall had been thrown down, and ordered the regiment "forward." Headed by the color bearer, with shouts, the presage of victory, they obeyed. For a moment the air seemed freighted with missiles of death, but a moment only. Confused and terrified the enemy threw down their arms and trampled upon each other in their fi antic attempts to escape. My men rushed upon them as though they were the appointed avengers of their comrades slain. Considering our numbers, the slaughter was fearful. The enemy, dividing to the right and left, let my command through his center on to his artillery and train. Some we captured in good order, with cannoneers in their places, drivers on their horses; others entangled, upset, and abandoned; and, again, ambulances with their loads of wounded; horses, with their riders; cannoneers, with pieces; as if hurled together by some all-powerful agency, lay a mass of ruins.
Having received assurances from General Custer before starting of prompt support, I threw my entire command into the charge, and with care that no organized body of the enemy was near my flanks, my advance was not halted until we reached a small creek half a mile south of Strasburg, where several upset wagons had completely blockaded the passage, leaving the pike this side crowded with trains. Here, with only about twenty men, four miles from any organized support, surrounded with prisoners thrice our number and constantly augmenting, I was compelled to send captured ambulances and wagons without change of drivers' accompanied by small parties of prisoners, unguarded to the rear.
Support came, and midnight found my regiment again on the north bank of Cedar Creek, and daylight on the morning of the 20th found me still guarding the prisoners and captured property.
Of the gallant conduct of my officers and men no language it too strong. Sir, allow me to say that every officer and man under my command who participated in that charge conducted himself with such gallantry as to merit special mention.
The following is a correct copy of the receipt given by the provost marshal for the prisoners and property captured during the engagement by my regiment:
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE, THIRD CAVALRY DIVISION,
MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION
October 22, 1864.
Received of First Vermont Cavalry, Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett commanding, the following amount of property and number of prisoners captured on the 19th instant at the battle of Cedar Creek: 161 prisoners (among whom were 1 general officer, 1 colonel, 1 lieutenant-colonel, 3 battle-flags, 23 pieces of artillery, 14 caissons, 17 army wagons, 6 spring wagons and ambulances, 83 sets of artillery harness, 75 sets of wagon harness, 98 horses, 69 mules.
G. H. ROGERS,
Lieutenant and Provost-Marshal.
In addition to the above engagements my regiment participated in the skirmishes of the 27th and 29th of September at Waynesborough and also on the 13th of October, on the right of the picket-line at Cedar Creek, and some others of little importance.
I am, generals very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. W. BENNETT,
General P. T. WASHBURN,
Adjutant and Inspector-General.
Source: Official Records, Volume XLIII, Chapter LV. The Shenandoah Valley Campaign, pp. 544, 546-548.