The Union Army’s victory at the Battle of Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah Valley — where my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was on duty with 6th New York Heavy Artillery Co. L — ushered in a wave of optimism and celebration among Union troops.
It was the next great Union victory after Atlanta and assured the reelection of Pres. Abraham Lincoln just two weeks later — on 8 Nov. 1864.
The day after the battle, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sent a telegram from City Point, Va., to Sec. of War Stanton in Washington commending Gen. Philip Sheridan for “[t]urning what bid fair be a disaster into glorious victory” at Cedar Creek.
“I had a salute of 100 guns from each of the armies here fired in honor of Sheridan’s last victory, “
The roar of those 100-gun salutes also paid homage to rank-and-file Union soldiers — like my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — who were on the front lines and rear guard of a battle that changed U.S. history.
For without them, there could have been no victory and no glory — and Sheridan acknowledged as much in his 20 Oct. 2014 telegram to Grant:
We have been favored by a great victory — a victory won from disaster by the gallantry of our officers and men.
Their bravery was brought home in a 28 Oct. 1864 letter from Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds, of 6th NYHA Co. M, to his wife after his sobering visit to the Cedar Creek battlefield:
The next day I spent in walking over the battle ground and viewing the effects. Most of the dead had been buried. I saw only one dead rebel and two of our soldiers that still remained unburied. War is a dreadful thing and one only has to see its effects to realize it.
There had been valor and mortal sacrifice at Cedar Creek amid the thick fog and clouds of gunsmoke — and when the air cleared and the battle had ended, the sun shown down on a country that had made up its mind to decisively march in a new direction.
The 1864 presidential election hinged on this: Would the North press forward in the fight to end slavery under Pres. Abraham Lincoln or would it slide back to accommodating the southern slaveholders by electing George B. McClellan?
I am proud that my ancestor was there when the Union victory at Cedar Creek answered that question: There would be no turning back.
More in the next post on the role of Union troops, including my great, great grandfather, in Lincoln’s reelection.
© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.