General Sheridan's Shenandoah Campaign Report on Special Operations




Military Division of the Missouri

Chicago, November 1877



       On the 4th of August 1864, I was appointed to the command of the Army of the Shenandoah, then lying at and near Harper's Ferry in the Valley of Virginia.  The Army of the Confederacy, commanded by Gen. Jubal Early, occupied Winchester, in the same valley, about thirty miles distant.

        On the 10th of August, we moved against the enemy, who retreated up the valley, taking a strong position at Fisher's Hill, immediately south of the town of Strasburg.  On the 14th of August, while making my preparations to attack, I received information from Lieut. Gen. Grant, the commander-in-chief, of heavy reinforcements being dispatched to Gen. Early, stating that the whole of Longstreet's Corps had left Petersburg and were enroute to join him and directing that I should discontinue offensive operations and assume the defensive.  As I could not take the defensive without a defensible line, I was compelled to fall back to Halltown near Harper's Ferry; but prior to doing this I learned through my scouts that Longstreet's advance was crossing the Blue Ridge and threatening my flank by way of Front Royal.  I accordingly fell back and was followed by the enemy.  Soon after taking position at Halltown, and after making a reconnaissance in force, I was led to believe that only Kershaw's Division of Longstreet's Corps had as yet united with Early, and I again assumed the offensive, the enemy falling back to Winchester.  I took up position at and near Berryville on the Harper's Ferry and Winchester pike, about ten miles from Winchester.

        My movement to the rear had impressed me so strongly with the absolute necessity of more reliable information of the enemy's numbers and movements, that I determined to adopt a system of espionage that would give me a more accurate knowledge of him than I had as yet been able to obtain, and I immediately commenced the organization of a body of scouts, whose services, from that time forward, were almost invaluable to me.

        The Presidential campaign in the north was now fairly opened, and in the peculiar condition of our country at that time, I became much impressed with the idea that, under no circumstances, could we afford to risk a defeat -- to say nothing of my intense aversion as a soldier to such a result, in my case.  Having ascertained through two of my most trustworthy scouts, that there was an old colored man -- near Millwood, about fifteen miles from my headquarters, who had a pass permitting him to enter and leave Winchester three times a week to sell vegetables.  I thought I might make use of him in getting inside the enemy's lines and obtaining information.  My next object was to find some intelligent and reliable Unionist in Winchester who would be willing to cooperate with me.  I therefore asked Gen. Geo. Crook, who was then commanding what was known as the Army of Western Virginia, if he knew of any person there that could be safely relied upon.  He did not know positively, but suggested a Miss ________, whom he had met there and whom he thought to be honestly loyal to the United States government.  I then sent two scouts to see the colored man and to bring him at midnight to my tent.  After satisfying myself of his truthfulness, I enquired of him if he knew Miss ______.  He said yes, and I arranged with him to carry a letter to her, written on tissue paper so as to be able to compress it to an exceedingly small compass, and which I could wrap in tin-foil, so that he could keep it in his mouth, and chew and swallow it, if necessary.  I instructed him to deliver it privately to Miss ______ and state to her quietly that it was of great importance, and that he would return in an hour or two for an answer.  The next day I wrote a letter to Miss ______, appealing to her patriotism and loyalty and asking her for certain information, if it was in her power to give it.  On the night preceding the day that the colored man was to take his marketing to Winchester, the letter was given him by one of my scouts, and the next day it was by him safely delivered to Miss _____.  The lady courageously acquiesced in my request, and the result was that the first Battle of Winchester, Opequon, occurring on the 19th of September 1864, was to a certain extent fought and won on information given me by this young lady.

        The following are briefly the facts: After receiving two communications from Miss _____, giving me the best information she could of the number and position of the enemy, she informed me that Kershaw's division was under orders to return to Petersburg or Richmond, and that she would notify me as soon as possible after its departure.  The vegetables of the colored man, under the influence of the scouts, were promptly sent into Winchester, but it was two or three weeks before I received information from Miss ______ that the division had started.  Meanwhile, the whole country seemed to be impatient at my apparently dilatory movements, and I fear that Gen. Grant became so also, as he came in person to Charlestown to see me.  But on the night prior to his arrival, Miss _____ had sent me word by the faithful colored man that Kershaw's division was then marching up the Front Royal pike en route for Richmond; and when I met Gen. Grant at Charlestown and assured him that I was ready to attack, and would do so even before the date specified by him, he then gave me the since famous order, "Go in" and the order was probably given from the result of my conversation with him that convinced him that I would succeed, and I am willing to admit that my confidence arose to a great extent from the information furnished by Miss ______.  I could have defeated the enemy as he was, but, considering the great interests at stake and the loss of life that Kershaw's division would inflict, I felt that it was better to wait, and attack him diminished in numbers by the withdrawal of this division, several thousand strong, than to allow political pressure to force me to fight a battle with increased risk and greater loss to our own army.

        After this battle, I continued to devote much attention to the formation of a body of scouts, limiting their numbers to sixty, never more and often less.  These scouts were all enlisted men and were placed under the command of Lieut. Col. Young, 2nd Rhode Island Vols., who was placed on my staff; the conditions of payment being their regular pay as soldiers, and for services under my direction as scouts they were to be paid an proportion to the value of the information obtained or services rendered, and they were to perform any service required, however desperate.  Duplicate and often triplicate sets of scouts were sent to accomplish the same purposes, as this would give corroborative information, or detect any fraud in the performance of the duties required.  They were all dressed in Confederate uniform, and were required to be good shots, and skillful and accomplished spies.

       About the 1st of November, through the scouts, I made the acquaintance of Mrs. _____, the wife of a Confederate soldier then a prisoner at Elmira, N.Y.  She agreed to engage as a spy on the condition of the release of her husband, and such other consideration as I thought her services worth.  These I found so valuable that I added to the compensation to be made her the consideration of furnishing sufficient money to set her husband up in business as a tinsmith in Baltimore.  She visited the enemy's camp, counted his artillery, ascertained his numbers and described his condition from time to time, from about the 1st of November, 1864, to the Battle of Waynesboro, March 2nd, 1865.  The day before the battle, she met me on my onward march on the road about eight miles from Staunton, told me where the enemy was encamped, his numbers, artillery, &c., and the next day, it was all captured, except for Gen. Early himself and a few followers.

       During the latter part of November or the first of December, 1864, I became acquainted with Miss ______, living in ________, who entered into an arrangement to carry Confederate mail from the town in which she lived to Baltimore, Md.  The letters were skillfully opened and again sealed, and much information and corroborative evidence obtained of the objects and intentions of the enemy.  Her trips to and fro were frequent.

        During the month of December 1864, I also made the acquaintance of Miss ______, who lived between Staunton and Lynchburg.  The arrangements with her was that the scouts should pass up the mountains on the west side of the valley and make their way to her house, where they would be entertained as Confederate soldiers, receive and collect all the news, and bring back letters to me.  This source of information was exceedingly valuable, and on account of the social position of the lady, I feel very reluctant to say much on the subject.  Suffice it to say, that by this and other means, I was so well informed of the strength and purposes of the enemy that it was almost unnecessary to picket.  There was not a single day in which I was not fully aware of what was going on in my front, for at least a distance of fifty miles, and nearly every day to the very picket lines of the enemy.  While these precautions on my part were going on, I learned that Major Harry Gilmor, of Maryland, had reached Harrisonburg, a town about five miles in my front, and I sent two trustworthy scouts to watch his movements and ascertain his purposes.  They returned in the course of a few days and informed me that he was on his way to Moorefield, in Western Virginia, a point nearly west of Harrisonburg and about 80 or 90 miles southwest of my headquarters at Winchester -- that he was going to Moorefield and that there was to be a camp meeting there, and that he expected to recruit a considerable force at the camp meeting, which, when joined by a party of recruits coming to him from Maryland, would make him a good-sized command with which he intended to depredate and break up the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  After this information was given me, I made up my mind to attempt his capture and, sending for Col. Young, we found among the scouts two young fellows from that section of Western Virginia, for we had many regiments from that portion of the state in our service, and all in my command.  I gave then a couple of hundred dollars, and directed them to go over and attend the camp meeting, and find out where Maj. Gilmore was quartered, and acquire a thorough knowledge of his habits and the house he lived in, to have a good time generally and collect all the information possible.  In about two weeks they returned and reported to me that Maj. Gilmor lived and had his headquarters in a house three or four miles out of Moorefield, told all about his habits and the number of men he had obtained, and how and where they were encamped.

        I then laid my plans for his capture, and sending for Col. Young, made known my plan to him, which was, for him to select twenty of his men and I would start him at night for Moorefield, and after he had gone about fifteen miles on the way, I would send 300 men in pursuit of him.  He was to pass himself and party off as the expected recruits from Maryland en route to Maj. Gilmor's headquarters, and state that he was being pursued by the Yankees.  Of course every one living on the road would help him along, and he could thus allay suspicion.  Meantime, the commanding officer of the 300 men in pursuit, who alone knew the scouts, would follow him up.  The plan worked admirably.  Col. Young was helped along in the way of refreshment &c., and passed through the town of Moorefield to Maj. Gilmore's headquarters, and on the plea of urgent business, was passed up into his rooms, about twelve o'clock on the night of Feb. 5th-6th, 1865, where he found Gilmor asleep, with two pistols on a chair.  When shaken by the shoulder by Col. Young, he awoke and asked who Young was.  He replied, placing a cocked pistol at his head, that he was one of Gen. Sheridan's staff officers, and ordered Major Gilmor to get up without delay and accompany him.  This was complied with.  Meanwhile, the adherents of Gilmor became aroused, but about that time, up came the 300 Yankees who were in pursuit, and Maj. Gilmor was secured and brought to my headquarters at Winchester, from whence he was sent by direction of Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, to Fort Warren, Boston Harbor.

       Although my general rule was to employ only soldiers as scouts, occasionally others not soldiers were employed, and among that number was one named Lomas, a Marylander by birth.  I never had much confidence in his pretensions, and constantly kept a close watch on him.  He aroused my suspicions by his frequent desires to see me privately, and always brought accurate information, nevertheless, my suspicions went so far as to make me believe he was a spy of the enemy, although I at no time felt quite certain that such was the case.  About the 1st of February, 1865, he informed me that he knew one of Mosby's men who had left him on account of some misunderstanding, and that he was exceedingly anxious to be of use to me.  I informed Lomas that I would take the proposition into consideration, although the affair looked suspicious, and subsequently arranged to see the man between eleven and twelve o'clock that night, making the way clear for him to met me at my headquarters.  He came with Lomas at the appointed time, was a tall, slender, handsome, dark-complexioned young man, of easy address and pleasant manners, but was completely disguised until after he entered my room.  To be brief, he told me he had served with Mosby, was tired of him and wanted to be useful to me, and wished to know if I had and service for him.  I agreed to give him some work, and that I would see him again at the same hour the next night.  My previous suspicions of Lomas, and the circumstances just narrated, satisfied me pretty well that both individuals belonged to the enemy; and sending for Col. Young next morning, we laid our plans to let them run out their string.  When the visit was made by Lomas and his friend on the second night, I said that I wanted the railroad bridge over the James River at Lynchburg burnt, and that if they would undertake the job and be successful, I would agree to pay them $7000, but nothing if it was not done, and that I would furnish them means and liberal expenses in the attempt.  They thought they could do it, and would be off on the venture the night following.  Meantime, Col. Young had selected two of his best men to watch them closely.  The parties left, and in about two or three days one of the two men sent to watch them returned, stating that Lomas and his friend had only gone to Strasburg, and were there concealed.  He was ordered to return and keep up the espionage.

       About the 15th or 16th of February, Lomas and his friend returned.  They had failed to burn the bridge, of course, as they had never gone further than Strasburg, twenty miles from my headquarters.  Still they gave a detailed account of how they had failed, and Lomas' friend informed me that he felt so bad about the failure that he thought it best to go to Richmond, and pick up such information as he could get there, which he then gave me.  There was no further doubt in my mind of the character of the two individuals with whom I had been dealing.  They were spies of the enemy, and were without doubt, in active correspondence with him, and as I was then making arrangements to move against him, I thought I could make use of the parties to lull suspicion of any movement, by engaging them to make a second attempt to burn the bridge, and thus deprive them of the opportunity of ascertaining any knowledge of the preparations then being made to move against Gen. Early.  This was agreed to, some more money for expenses paid, and the circumstances of an intended fox-hunt for my whole command, were related to them, so that it might spread.  Under the expectation of such an event, I could shoe the horses of the command all on a large part of which, it was given out, were to participate in the hunt.  Col. Young had secured two or three red foxes and a pack of hounds, and had them fed and shown conspicuously to add to the task.  Beef was publicly provided to feed the dogs, and such talk created about it as possible.  Lomas and his friend started promptly and were watched as before, but instead of going to Strasburg this time, they staid at Mrs. _____'s, in Newtown, only [two or three illegible words].

        The army marched on to the enemy at Waynesboro, before he had much time to get out of the way and captured his entire force.

       I heard nothing of Lomas and his good-looking and attached friend until after the assassination of President Lincoln, when it was discovered that he was one of the parties in that enterprise, and it has sometimes occurred to me that Lomas' friend might have been Wilkes Booth, but this is only a surmise.  Still my remembrance of him answers the description of that individual.

       After the Battle of Waynesboro, I sent duplicate sets of scouts to Winchester to inform Gen. Grant of the success attending our operations there thus far, and after blowing up the iron railroad bridge across the Shenandoah River, continued across the Blue Ridge Mountains toward Charlottesville, where two iron bridges across the Rivianna River, east of Charlottesville, were destroyed, in order to completely break up the railroad connections on the Central Virginia Railroad.  I then turned down the railroad in the direction of Lynchburg, intending to cross the James River on the bridge at Duguidsville if I could by any possibility secure it, and then continue my march to join Gen. Sherman in North or South Carolina.  The scouts covered the country down to Lynchburg, and I soon learned from them that the enemy's cavalry was marching from Richmond to Lynchburg, and that large numbers of infantry were being transferred there by rail.  Nevertheless, I thought that by continuing the march toward Lynchburg until I could get within a reasonable distance from the bridge at Dugiudsville, which the scouts had informed me was guarded and arranged to be burnt, I might make a bold dash at the bridge, and secure it before it could be destroyed.  I therefore advanced within sixteen miles of Lynchburg along the railroad, then turned down to the James River Canal, and made a bold dash of eight miles at a run towards the bridge, with two regiments of cavalry, but unfortunately the materials were too combustible and the enemy too much on the alert, and the bridge was too far to secure it from the flames.  The James River was very much swollen, and the six pontoon boats I had with me would span but a short distance over the stream, and I was compelled, but not reluctantly, to give up the idea of crossing.  Although my orders were to go, if I could, to join Gen. Sherman, the journey was long and I did not like to make it; but as the orders left everything to my own judgements, I felt at liberty to do as I thought best.  However, I made the effort to join Sherman, and I think I would have succeeded, if I could have crossed the river.  After the failure to get across, I made up my mind at once that if I could not join Gen. Sherman, I could join Gen. Grant at Petersburg.  I did not like to go back to Winchester.  I was master of the Shenandoah Valley, and, in fact, all of Northern Virginia; there was no use for me there, and so I concluded to join Gen. Grant.  As all the enemy's cavalry and a large force of infantry had been sent to Lynchburg, I thought I would just leave them there, turn round and make my way as rapidly as possible down the tow-path of the James River canals, destroying the locks, capture the loaded canal boats, stores, &c., advance as near to Richmond as I could, and then cut around and crossing the South and North Anna, crossing the Rapidan at the White House, and join Gen. Grant at Petersburg.  No time was lost.  My whole command marched down the canal to Colombia on the James River, which was as near to Richmond as I could go, on account of the Central Virginia Railroad being intact from Richmond to Gordonsville, and a force might be thrown out to intercept me and be on my flanks; so from Colombia I thought it best to strike north to the railroad and break it up as far toward Richmond as I could.  I think it was only the next evening after I made up my mind about what I would do, when I reached Colombia.  Here I considered it necessary to send word to Gen. Grant that I was on the way to join him instead of Gen. Sherman, and that I wanted supplies sent to the White House.  Selecting two of my best scouts, I wrote on tissue paper, in duplicate, an account of the Battle of Waynesboro and the events which had happened to me, and enclosing them separately in tin-foil to be carried in the mouth and swallowed if necessary.  I handed a copy to each of the scouts and set them afloat in a small boat with directions to go down the James River to the suburbs of Richmond, thence to Petersburg, and then to go into the trenches to fight.  (They were in Confederate uniform,) and to desert at a favorable opportunity and deliver the dispatches [sic] to Gen. Grant in person.  These instructions were carried out and my despatches reached Gen. Grant as above described; but to make matters still more sure, I sent by two other scouts duplicates of the same dispatch across the country around by the North and South Anna and across the Chickahominy to James River and Petersburg.  These despatches were also delivered safely -- the scouts only losing their horses.

       The next day after sending these despatches from Colombia, I started north toward the railroad at Beaver Dam, but long before reaching there, the scouts informed me that Gen. Early with about 200 men was in the vicinity.  I immediately hurried on, and before reaching the place, the scouts brought me a despatch just written by Gen. Robert E. Lee, and taken from the telegraph office at Beaver Dam Station, that Early had collected 200 men together, and that Sheridan was down at Colombia on the James River, and that he, Early, intended to strike me in the flanks.  I immediately started the 5th and 6th Regiments of New York cavalry in pursuit of him and his 200 men, who were leisurely marching in the direction of the South Anna River, and in about an hour they were overtaken, most of the men captured and Gen. Early and two staff officers, Maj. Moore and some one else, were pursued until a cross-road was reached, where Gen. Early and two of the orderlies slipped off on one, and the staff officers on the other.  The command followed the larger party with the two staff officers, whom they captured, but finding their mistake, the troops returned and pursued Gen. Early, but he was able to get across the South Anna, and make his escape in the darkness of the night.  I reached this point shortly afterwards, and the scouts found during the night a house some distance off and on the opposite side, where Gen. Early had stopped for an hour or two to rest, and resumed his journey to Richmond, where he arrived next day with his two orderlies -- all that remained of what was once the Army of Stonewall Jackson.   While this was going on, I learned from my scouts that the enemy's infantry, which I had left at Lynchburg, had been ordered back to Richmond, and as I was afraid that they might move over in the direction of the White House and threaten or prevent my crossing the Pamunkey at the White House, I thought I would advance as thought I intended to attack Richmond, and draw out this force after me and away from the direction off the White House, and at the proper time mount my horse, leave the enemy’s front and cut around his flanks, and secure my crossing at the White House.  This worked well.  I pushed on down the Central Railroad, destroying it, and as far as the little town of Ashlands, destroying cars and property, the advance pushing to within eleven miles of Richmond, where we burned a train of wagons.  The enemy's infantry, (he had no cavalry,) thinking, I presume, that it was making a bona fide advance, came out against me.  When I fell back, he followed up until I thought I had drawn him out far enough, when leaving Col. Fitzhugh's brigade of cavalry to skirmish with him and fall back until night, and then rapidly follow me.  I withdrew, crossed the North Anna, moved rapidly down to the imperfect bridge over the Pamunkey at the White House and crossed over, received the supplies sent me by Gen. Grant after the arrival of the scouts, and made my junction with him at Petersburg.  I believe the troops who followed me out from Richmond belonged to Longstreet and Pickett.     




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