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The Shenandoah Valley Campaign

          The beautiful Shenandoah Valley had great strategic value to the south during the Civil War.  It served as a Confederate breadbasket and the northeasterly and downhill trend of the valley “pointed” toward western Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Putting pressure on Washington D.C.  was a strategy of the Confederacy to pull Union troops away from Petersburg in 1864. About the time Grant set up shop at City Point, Confederate troops from the Shenandoah Valley arrived on the doorstep of Washington D.C.  Union troops including the Old Vermont Brigade, were sent from the Petersburg area to help defend the capitol. The incursion into the nations capitol culminated in the battle of Fort Stevens, one that Abraham Lincoln personally witnessed.  The Shenandoah Army that included the 6th Corps (and the Vermont troops) was now under the command of General Sheridan and their charge was to put an end to the threat coming out of the Shenandoah Valley.

       

 

         By August of 1864 the Union Army of the Shenandoah was in Charlestown Virginia.  Amanda reported to duty with the sixth corps on the 21st day of August 1864 during a severe skirmish near Pickets House, west of Charlestown. 

         Starting on September 13 three successive and successful Union battles followed including the Battle of Opequon, Winchester, and Fisher’s Hill.  The the Union efforts to eliminate the threats from the Shenandoah Valley was going as planned.    

         It would have been unlikely for Marshall and Amanda to not have crossed paths numerous times over the next couple of months. 

      The Battle of Cedar Creek  

          The Vermont Brigade would play a significant role, and ‘save the day’ in the battle of Cedar Creek.  In mid-October, General Phil Sheridan had already twice defeated Jubal Early’s Shenandoah Army, at Winchester and the battle of Fisher’s Hill.  Confident in his control of the valley, Sheridan had ridden to Washington on October 15 to meet with his superiors. 

         At dawn on October 19, Gen. Early made a well planned surprise attack , pushing the Union army back three miles.  The 8th Vermont lost two-thirds of its men in their efforts to counter the attack, and gained help from the arrival of Getty’s Division which included the Vermont Brigade.  Aldace Walker, of the 11th Vermont and who would write a book The Vermont Brigade in the Shenandoah Valley, 1864, described the Union retreat on the battlefield:

            “Wagons and ambulances lumbering hither and thither in disorder; pack horses led by frightened bummers, or wandering as their own free will; crowds of officers and men, some shod and some barefoot, many of them coatless and hatless, few without their rifles, but all rushing wildly to the rear, oaths and blows alike powerless to halt them; a cavalry regiment stretched across the field, unable to stem the torrent; and added to the confusion and consternation the frequent sight of blood, ambulances, wagons, men, stained and dripping, with here and there a corpse; while the whistling bullets and the shrieking shells told that the enemy knew their advantage and their ground.  It was a sight that might have demoralized the Old Guard of the first Napoleon.”

            Getty’s Division managed to fend off three Confederate assaults.  At one point, when Gen. Bidwell who commanded New York troops on the Vermonter’s left, fell dead, and the line seemed to be wavering, his replacement, Colonel Windsor French, jumped to the front shouting, “Don’t run, men, till the Vermonters do”. 

            Sheridan, returning from Washington, met soldiers who told him of the defeat at Cedar Creek.  In what would become ‘Sheridan’s Ride’, his horse Rienzi galloped twelve miles to the battlefield.  When he encountered General Getty, he asked, ‘What troops are on the skirmish line?’ General Getty replied, ‘The whole of the Vermont Brigade.’  ‘We are all right,’ Sheridan said. ‘We’ll have our old camps back tonight.’  And he did, by that night the confederate troops had been completely overrun and defeated.   

  —–George Benedict, Vermont in the Civil War         

           The image above is of a mural painted by Julian Scott in 1874 on display at the Vermont State Capitol in Montpelier, more specifically the second floor of the west wing that includes the Cedar Creek Room.  The mural nearly fills the south wall and depicts the contributions of the Vermont troops at the Battle of Cedar Creek.      

           

 The Horses Kicking and Struggling     

         At the time of the surprise attack, the Sixth Corps was behind the front lines but with a short time troops from other divisions were running to the rear through their camp.   Getting thrown from a horse would actually be more likely than not.  A commander of an ambulance train, Dennis Thompson, who was involved in the retreat, wrote:

            “…. many of our teams and vehicles were left in the ditches which crossed the fields, overturned and wrecked, with the horses kicking and struggling in the harness…..”  

 Thrown from a Horse

         Marshall suffered an injury at Cedar Creek that would never be cured.  Amanda describes his injuries and illnesses in great detail at a pension hearing in 1890.  In this testimony Marshall confirms that he was thrown from a horse at Cedar Creek.   

        The life long symptoms included weakness and numbness in his left arm and hand, debilitating pain in his left side at times,  and an inability to get a breath.  In all likelihood he fractured one or more vertebrate in his neck, and broke or crushed ribs on his left side that improperly healed.  In other words he rather violently landed on his left side, probably hitting his head in the process.  

           With their victory at Cedar Creek, the Union gained permanent control over the Shenandoah Valley (which eliminated any further Confederate threats to Washington, D.C.), and ensured President Lincoln’s re-election three weeks later.   

            October 19 would prove to be a historical date in Vermont’s history, not only with the Vermonters insuring the victory at Cedar Creek, but because, back home in Vermont, Confederate soldiers would be involved in the St. Albans Raid, robbing three banks of more than $200,000 before escaping into Canada. 

           Amanda returned to Petersburg shortly after Cedar Creek and resumed her duties with the 9th Corps at City Point.  

        “I remained with the 9th Corps in charge of the colored women and laundry Dept until the 6th Corps came back from Shenandoah Valley in Dec. 1864 or Jan. 1865 when I was transferred on my request from the 9th to the 6th Corps Hospital and I remained with them during the rest of my service.”

—–Pension Application: A.M. Felch, 1888

            When Amanda would meet up with Marshall again in December, he would seek her out for treatment from the injury he sustained:

           Amanda:  “In Dec. 1864 at City Point…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 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 and feel very much as I did then.’  I het some rocks and put 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 my mind to it as I had so many to look after.”

—–M.P. Felch 1890 Pension submission

The Siege of Petersburg

          Initial attempts to take Richmond and end the war were unsuccessful.  The strategy then became cutting off all supplies to the Confederacy in the Richmond area.  The siege of Petersburg began in the late summer of 1864 and lasted nine months ending in  April in 1865. Over thirty miles of trenches would be built during the campaign and nine months of battles and skirmishes would occur. 

       Marshall received a 20 day furlough in March of 1865 during the tail end of the siege, possibly something in relation to his lingering injuries.  He returned just before breakthrough of Vermont troops at Petersburg.  

The Breakthrough         

         The Vermont brigade would see heavy,  almost constant action to the end of the war.  On May 2, 1865 a member of the brigade, Charles Gould, would be the first soldier to breach the defenses at Petersburg.   The 10th Vermont would be the first regiment to plant their flag in the rebel works.

—–Howard Coffin, Full Duty (Woodstock: 1993) p. 338

The fall of Petersburg would be followed by the fall of Richmond and the end of the war.  The breakthrough is a point celebrated today at Pamplin Historic Park south of Petersburg.  Photos to the right are from that location and moment. 

Surrender and Assassination 

        Immediately after the breakthrough, Lee’s army along with local citizens abandoned Richmond and  began heading west.  One week after the breakthrough on the 9th of May, General Lee surrendered his army to General Grant at the Appomattox courthouse.  Although the war was still being waged in some locations the nation celebrated this moment as the end of of the war.  

       The celebrations turned into mourning as news of Lincoln’s assassination spread.  Henry Houghton, of the 3rd Vermont, wrote, “On the 15th we received the sad news of President Lincoln’s assassination; it was received with indescribable grief and indignation.  We knew that our brigade stood high in his estimation and we mourned with almost a personal sorrow.”

—–Robert Poirier, They Could Not Have Done Better, 2005, pg 206

A sprig of cedar

            The Sixth Corps missed the Grand Review of Army of the Potomac, held on May 23-23, 1865, because they were on garrison duty in Virginia, but they marched in review before President Andrew Johnson on June 8.  Every Vermonter “wore a sprig of cedar in his cap, emblematic of the Green Mountain State”…. The press described them as looking “grandly; tall, sturdy, bronzed, muscular, they strode by with swinging step, fresh and bright, as if just setting out on a campaign, instead of returning homeward after four years of as terrible service as any brigade in any army of the whole republic has passed through.”

—–Robert Poirier, They Could Not Have Done Better, 2005, pg

Next Chapter: Married in Boston

After the war Amanda and Marshall return back home in Vermont but jobs are plenty in Boston and they make a decision to relocate there and find work. In December, Marshall takes on a job in a shoe store and they marry there in Boston.  They analyze the option to go west; manifest destiny is in the air.  They do their research and decide to make a one way journey to the Colorado territory the next spring.