Say What Saturday: Battle of Guard Hill (Front Royal VA) August 16, 1864 First Victory of Cavalry Over Infantry in the East

lelliott19

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Most people have never even heard of the battle of Guard Hill (aka Battle of Crooked Run) which occurred August 16, 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley near Front Royal, Virginia. According to James Harvey Kidd, it was an occasion that clearly illustrated George Armstrong Custer's military intuition. It certainly didn't turn out well for William T. Wofford's Georgians of Kershaw's division.

....We were just gathering around...to partake of a hastily prepared meal, when Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, which had stealthily approached the ford, charged across and made a dash at our pickets. Major H. H. Vinton, of the Sixth Michigan was in command of of the picket line, and promptly rallying on his reserves, he courageously met Lee's attack and checked it. That dinner was never eaten. Custer's bugler sounded "to horse." And as if by magic, the men were in the saddle. Custer dashed out with his staff and ordered the Fifth Michigan forward, to be followed by the other regiments.​
I supposed he would charge in the direction of the ford, where Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry was still contending with the Sixth Michigan. He did nothing of the kind. Moving diagonally to the left, he reached the crest overlooking the river just in time to surprise Kershaw [Wofford's brigade] in the act of crossing. The Fifth Michigan deployed into line in fine style and opened such a hot fire with their Spencers, that the head of Kershaw's column was completely crushed. Every Confederate who was across was either killed or captured. Many of those who were in the water were drowned and those on the other side were kept there. Just then, Devin's brigade came up, and helped to drive the cavalry across the river. The prisoners, all infantry numbered from three to five hundred.​
[Source: James Harvey Kidd, Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman with Custer's Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War, Sentinel Printing Company, 1908, pp. 375-376.]​
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Jedediah Hotchkiss took the time to sketch the positions of the Confederate troops, but he would not have known the identity of the Federals.

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The Tribune's special says: Col. DeVeirs [sic, Devin] who commands a brigade in Sheridan's cavalry, and who was wounded in an engagement at Front Royal on the 17th [sic, 16th] arrived here to-day. He brought with him two stands of rebel colors. Col. D. pronounces it one of the hardest fought battles of the war, and the first time during the history of the rebellion that cavalry defeated infantry. [Rutland Weekly Herald. (Rutland, VT), August 25, 1864, page 8.]

@Eric Wittenberg can you verify if this statement by Thomas C Devin is correct? Was Guard Hill/Crooked Run the first time that cavalry defeated infantry?
 
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Eric Wittenberg

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View attachment 369645
Most people have never even heard of the battle of Guard Hill (aka Battle of Crooked Run) which occurred August 16, 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley near Front Royal, Virginia. According to James Harvey Kidd, it was an occasion that clearly illustrated George Armstrong Custer's military intuition. It certainly didn't turn out well for William T. Wofford's brigade of Kershaw's division.

....We were just gathering around...to partake of a hastily prepared meal, when Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, which had stealthily approached the ford, charged across and made a dash at our pickets. Major H. H. Vinton, of the Sixth Michigan was in command of of the picket line, and promptly rallying on his reserves, he courageously met Lee's attack and checked it. That dinner was never eaten. Custer's bugler sounded "to horse." And as if by magic, the men were in the saddle. Custer dashed out with his staff and ordered the Fifth Michigan forward, to be followed by the other regiments.​
I supposed he would charge in the direction of the ford, where Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry was still contending with the Sixth Michigan. He did nothing of the kind. Moving diagonally to the left, he reached the crest overlooking the river just in time to surprise Kershaw [Wofford's brigade] in the act of crossing. The Fifth Michigan deployed into line in fine style and opened such a hot fire with their Spencers, that the head of Kershaw's column was completely crushed. Every Confederate who was across was either killed or captured. Many of those who were in the water were drowned and those on the other side were kept there. Just then, Devin's brigade came up, and helped to drive the cavalry across the river. The prisoners, all infantry numbered from three to five hundred.​
[Source: James Harvey Kidd, Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman with Custer's Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War, Sentinel Printing Company, 1908, pp. 375-376.]​
View attachment 369647
Jedediah Hotchkiss took the time to sketch the positions of the Confederate troops, but he would not have known the identity of the Federals.

View attachment 369653
The Tribune's special says: Col. DeVeirs [sic, Devin] who commands a brigade in Sheridan's cavalry, and who was wounded in an engagement at Front Royal on the 17th [sic, 16th] arrived here to-day. He brought with him two stands of rebel colors. Col. D. pronounces it one of the hardest fought battles of the war, and the first time during the history of the rebellion that cavalry defeated infantry. [Rutland Weekly Herald. (Rutland, VT), August 25, 1864, page 8.]

@Eric Wittenberg can you verify if this statement by Thomas C Devin is correct? Was Guard Hill/Crooked Run the first time that cavalry defeated infantry?

It was in the east. I haven't studied the Western Theatre closely enough to say for certain.

33 days later, the grand five brigade cavalry charge at Third Winchester shattered Early's line and sent his army "whirling through Winchester," as a Union staff officer later said.
 

Ole Miss

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Custer was in love with Custer to the nth degree! He was a dashing leader and personally very brave! Strategy was a weak point for him in my opinion. His tactics at the Little Big Horn lead to his death and the loss of 5 companies of the 7th Cavalry
Regards
David
 

Cavalier

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@Mrs. V There are plenty of positive things written about Custer. The above book has some of them.

If your interested, I can send you the names or some other works you might find enlightening about him. He seems, to me any way, a complicated character and not, in my humble opinion, the one dimensional villain he is often portrayed.

John
 

limberbox

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Agreed. Complicated is the word. Generally brilliant Civil War career (a few missteps, but who hasn't); but did not fare so well post-war: political problems (Belknap affair), tended to play favorites, treated some Iowa cavalry abysmally while on occupation duty in Texas, controversial attack on Black Kettle's village on the Washita (and "abandonment" of the reckless Major Elliott ("Here goes for a brevet or a coffin!")) -- and then there was that difficulty along the Little Bighorn when the Indians did not react in the expected manner to his tactics.
 

Luke Freet

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View attachment 369645
Most people have never even heard of the battle of Guard Hill (aka Battle of Crooked Run) which occurred August 16, 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley near Front Royal, Virginia. According to James Harvey Kidd, it was an occasion that clearly illustrated George Armstrong Custer's military intuition. It certainly didn't turn out well for William T. Wofford's Georgians of Kershaw's division.

....We were just gathering around...to partake of a hastily prepared meal, when Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, which had stealthily approached the ford, charged across and made a dash at our pickets. Major H. H. Vinton, of the Sixth Michigan was in command of of the picket line, and promptly rallying on his reserves, he courageously met Lee's attack and checked it. That dinner was never eaten. Custer's bugler sounded "to horse." And as if by magic, the men were in the saddle. Custer dashed out with his staff and ordered the Fifth Michigan forward, to be followed by the other regiments.​
I supposed he would charge in the direction of the ford, where Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry was still contending with the Sixth Michigan. He did nothing of the kind. Moving diagonally to the left, he reached the crest overlooking the river just in time to surprise Kershaw [Wofford's brigade] in the act of crossing. The Fifth Michigan deployed into line in fine style and opened such a hot fire with their Spencers, that the head of Kershaw's column was completely crushed. Every Confederate who was across was either killed or captured. Many of those who were in the water were drowned and those on the other side were kept there. Just then, Devin's brigade came up, and helped to drive the cavalry across the river. The prisoners, all infantry numbered from three to five hundred.​
[Source: James Harvey Kidd, Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman with Custer's Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War, Sentinel Printing Company, 1908, pp. 375-376.]​
View attachment 369647
Jedediah Hotchkiss took the time to sketch the positions of the Confederate troops, but he would not have known the identity of the Federals.

View attachment 369653
The Tribune's special says: Col. DeVeirs [sic, Devin] who commands a brigade in Sheridan's cavalry, and who was wounded in an engagement at Front Royal on the 17th [sic, 16th] arrived here to-day. He brought with him two stands of rebel colors. Col. D. pronounces it one of the hardest fought battles of the war, and the first time during the history of the rebellion that cavalry defeated infantry. [Rutland Weekly Herald. (Rutland, VT), August 25, 1864, page 8.]

@Eric Wittenberg can you verify if this statement by Thomas C Devin is correct? Was Guard Hill/Crooked Run the first time that cavalry defeated infantry?
I read up on this engagement in Scott Patchan's wonderful work on the lead up to Opequon, The Last Battle of Winchester. According to Patchan, Wofford's horse was shot from under him and fell on top of him. Due to the injuries he sustained here, along with prior wounds acting up, he would leave the army for Georgia to recuperate, never returning to his brigade. Col. Joseph Armstrong of the 18th Georgia took over command before turning over to Col. Christopher C. Sanders, who led the brigade through Cedar Creek.
 
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