Bearing the Brunt

Well-dressed men and women pose in front of a stone war memorial in a 1907 photo.
Veterans of the 128th New York regiment and their wives, along with local Confederate veterans, attend the 1907 dedication of the monument.

“It is probable that few of us… will ever see this monument again, and so we leave it, hoping that it may stand for generations and ages to teach the passer by on this thoroughfare a lesson of personal, practical, patriotic duty…”

—A veteran of the 128th New York State Infantry

On October 15, 1907, veterans of the 128th New York Regiment met on the Cedar Creek battlefield to dedicate the monument to their unit. These men, along with the rest of the 19th Corps, had borne the brunt of the Confederate attack against their position, around 6:00 a.m. In the fog and smoke they could see little—only the flash of rifles and sounds of battle told them where the enemy was. Their trenches, facing towards Cedar Creek, were of little use as the Confederates attacked from the left and the rear. Within an hour these Union troops were pushed out of their positions and began a fighting withdrawal towards Belle Grove.

A tattered antique US flag has 35 stars and 128 embroidered on it.
Camp flag used by the 128th New York Volunteers
Low ridges of earth on a woodland floor traces the remains of a Civil War trench.
The trace of a 19th Corps trench


Monuments of Earth

Here on the Cedar Creek battlefield, there are few war monuments in stone. The battlefield has monuments in another form, made by soldiers themselves: some of the best-preserved Civil War earthworks.

Soldiers of Gen. William Emory’s 19th Corps built trenches just days before the Battle of Cedar Creek to guard against attack coming from Strasburg and across Cedar Creek. The impressive works should have impeded any assault, even one made by an enemy force much larger than the Confederate army at Cedar Creek.

Plans for a Confederate Attack

At the time, the 19th Corps earthworks - or trenches - started at the Valley Pike and extended for about a mile north. They included several redoubts - defensive works for artillery batteries - and one redan, or V-shaped work, which was constructed in front of the main line of trenches and intended to serve as an advance warning system.

Jubal Early, commanding the Confederate Army of the Valley, initially hesitated to make any attack on the Federals’ seemingly impregnable position. Then his officers came back from Signal Knob on Massanutten Mountain and reported a weakly-defended Union left flank. The Confederates found a way to strike that exposed left flank, and in doing so, caught Maj. Gen. George Crook’s 8th Corps completely by surprise. Crook’s men retreated in haste across the Valley Pike and the fields around Belle Grove. Emory’s 19th Corps soldiers, behind their trenches, soon found themselves being fired upon by Confederates from the rear.

Reversing the Trenches

As the Confederate attack continued, the men of the 19th Corps found themselves in an untenable position. As an officer of the 75th New York Infantry wrote,

“the regiment remained behind the works until all the troops on our left had fallen back, and as the enemy were charging over the works on our left and had already passed in our rear... orders were given for the regiment to do the same… falling back along the line of entrenchments to our right, as our retreat by the rear was already cut off…”

Farther down the 19th Corps line, a member of the 114th New York Infantry would remember that their position

“was now very critical. The enemy had gained possession of the road and, now that the Eighth Corps was hors de combat, was turning his attention to us. Bullets began to reach us, but not from the front, and we saw plainly that if we were going to use this line of breastworks, which had cost us so much hard work, we must get upon the wrong side of them…”

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    Part of a series of articles titled A Victory Turned From Disaster.

    Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park

    Last updated: December 17, 2021